Any Night’s Right for Pasta Aglio E Olio Con Peperoncino

Classic olive oil-garlic-hot pepper pasta gets a boost.

Classic olive oil-garlic-hot pepper pasta gets a boost.


You gotta love a recipe that’s so easy yet so sublime that it can be both a quick clean-out-the-pantry desperation dish, as well as a fit-for-company dazzler.

“Pasta Aglio E Olio Con Peperoncino” is exactly that.

It’s straight-forward enough to whip together on a weeknight when you don’t know what else to make after coming home after work. And it’s special enough to make for spur-of-the-moment guests who come calling unexpectedly.

It’s from “House of Vinegar: The Power of Sour, with Recipes” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy. It’s by James Beard Award-winning Chef Jonathon Sawyer of Cleveland’s Greenhouse Tavern. You may recognize as a competitor on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef Gauntlet” and the Cooking Channel’s “Chopped.”

House of Vinegar

As the name implies, the book is all about how vinegar can transform dishes. Depending upon how much you use, it adds noticeable tang, rounds flavors, and can help tame and balance sweetness, bitterness and saltiness.

The book will teach you how to make a variety of vinegars from “Modernist Cucumber Vinegar” to “Strawberry Wine Vinegar.” Since vinegar is all about fermentation, there’s a whole section about pickles, too, including recipes for “Pickled Green Tomatoes” and “Bavarian Black Grape Pickle.”

Whether you buy your vinegar or make it from scratch, there are recipes to show how to highlight it in dishes, such as “Bone-In Beef Pot Roast” that uses vinegar in the brine, and “Mulled Port & Cherry Granita” that uses balsamic vinegar.

This is a sassy, fun book, owing to Sawyer’s irreverent voice. Just read his introduction to that “Pasta Aglio E Olio Con Peperoncino” recipe: “Attention all young and/or single people! You need to commit this pasta recipe to memory. Why? Several reasons. First, it’s a can’t-fail meal to execute when you’re trying to woo a boo thang at home. Second, all of the partiers in your life — yourself included — will love devouring this pan-sauce classic before they sleep off their drunk (just don’t burn the place down, okay?). And third, pasta aficionados will go bonkers for this cheese-chile-fish-sauce-drenched spaghetti dish.”

I can’t say I was trying to “woo a boo thang at home,” but I will say my husband did love this dish.

Why wouldn’t he — or any of us for that matter — fall for this spicy, garlicky, silky and savory tumble of pasta?

Pasta aglio e olio is really just pasta coated with olive oil, garlic and grated cheese. There are plenty of renditions out there. But I love about this one is the dash of fish sauce and white wine vinegar in it. You’d think that small amount wouldn’t make a big difference. But it really does add another level of umami flavor.

Plus, the herby toasted bread crumbs sprinkled over the top give the pasta its final flourish, adding little bits of crunch and a toasty taste. The recipe for the bread crumbs below makes more than you’ll need for this dish, so feel free to just halve everything if you don’t plan on using the bread crumbs later in the week for other dishes.

The plain-Jane look of this pasta belies its big punch of flavor.

To make it even more lush tasting, you could switch out the olive oil for beef suet or rendered chicken fat. Or do what I did, which was use a mix of olive oil and duck fat, which I noted in the recipe.

The only other change I made was in the number of servings. Sawyer says it feeds 2. Now, I love pasta, but even for me, eating a 1/2 pound of pasta in one sitting is a bit much. I think this recipe serves 4, especially if you serve the pasta with a nice green salad.

Get your fork ready for a pasta dish with zip.

Simple, delicious and irresistible.

Simple, delicious and irresistible.

Pasta Aglio Olio Con Perponcino

(Serves 2 to 4)

1 pound spaghetti

3 tablespoons of your best olive oil or schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), aged beef suet or duck fat

3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon crushed dried arbol chile

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons grated salty aged pecorino (such as Moliterno)

1 teaspoon fish sauce

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons bread crumbs (see recipe below)


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, per the manufacturer’s instructions.

While the pasta is cooking, in a large saute pan over low heat, combine half of the olive oil, the garlic and one-fourth of the chile and gently fry to brown the garlic.

Barely drain the cooked pasta, leaving some water clinging to the noodles (this will help emulsify the pan sauce). Add the pasta and vinegar to the saute pan, turn the heat to medium-high, and add half of the remaining chile. Once the water begins to evaporate, turn off the heat and add the remaining oil, the butter, half of the pecorino, and the fish sauce. Stir vigorously, then taste and add salt (or a dash more fish sauce) if needed.

Divide pasta among two to four bowls and garnish with the bread crumbs and remaining chile and pecorino. Serve immediately.

Perfect Bread Crumbs

1 cup cubed day-old bread (heels, centers, white, wheat…whatevs)

1 tablespoon of your best olive oil

2 tablespoon fines herbes (a mix of finely chopped parsley, tarragon, chives, and dill)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon salted butter, melted


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the cubed bread into a food processor, add the olive oil, fines herbes, salt, and butter. Pulse a couple times to combine. Spread out the mixture on a baking sheet.

Bake until the crumbs take on a deep rich, toasted brown color, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring half way through the baking. Let bread crumbs cool completely before using. Store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 3 days.

Adapted from “House of Vinegar” by Jonathon Sawyer


More Recipes with Vinegar to Pucker Up To: Jacques Pepin’s Lamb Steaks with Soy, Vinegar and Garlic


And: Roasted Endive with Sherry Vinegar


And: Citrusy Red Cabbage Pickle


And: Pickled Cherries


And: Quick Pickled Tomatoes on Ricotta Toast


And: Refrigerator Mediterranean Pickles


And: Oregano Vinaigrette


And: Pickled Persimmons

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  • I never tire of pasta, and this is a great dish! I’ve made similar dishes to this, but never this specific one. And definitely have never used vinegar in a pasta dish like this! terrific idea — I really like this. Thanks!

  • Yesssss. I read somewhere recently that an interesting garnish is to take frozen chicken skin, finely process, then crisp up in a pan. I have some thigh skin frozen and I bet it would be awesome here in place of the breadcrumbs!

  • Judith: OMG, that sounds scrumptious and way better than mere breadcrumbs. If you make it, you’ll have to let us know how it goes with this pasta dish. I predict it will be a total winner.

  • The fish sauce would be very similar to adding anchovy paste to the pasta. I wouldn’t have thought about a touch of vinegar although I add a little red wine vinegar to black beans before serving.

  • I am sorry – this dish was woefully dull. No taste. My fil’s recipe that I watched him make for years became my recipe for years. It has anchovies and sardines, spicy, small banana peppers, of course lots of garlic- 6 cloves cooked at varying intetvals to give a range of the different levels of taste. No cheese whatsoever. It cooks for 20 min then add al dente pasta.
    Taste of the sea delicioso.

  • Elaine: Thanks for that alternate version. I love how the garlic is added at different stages, too. I’m definitely trying it.

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