Simple pleasures

In the name of the garlic, the chilli and the holy olive oil

The grey and dreary London streets are now exploding with wispy and bedraggled underfunded Christmas lights wrapped around flickering streetlamps. Apart from the showpiece Regent Street lights, most of the decorations elsewhere seem to have been found at the back of a cupboard from the ’70s. Still, not one to complain about Christmas cheer, it is now permissible to talk about celebrating it and to start making plans.

Two days ago I had my first mince pie of the year. And I had it for breakfast. That’s how rock and roll I am. I also managed to burn it slightly, so really it turned into dark pastry holding mincemeat at a temperature approaching that of Krakatoa in full flow. But all this aside, I have also been cooking plenty of festive food for the various shoots I’ve been involved in over the past fortnight. And to be honest, I need a break from ham, turkey, filo parcels, prawn canapés and the like. And with all this extra cooking, sometimes the only energy I can summon at mealtimes will last the length of time it takes to make an omelette, bake a potato or cook a quick pasta dish.

That doesn’t mean it should be bleak though. Simplicity is beautiful and the best ingredients don’t need a lot doing to them to make something delicious. So this classic pasta dish (usually made with spaghetti, but I prefer linguine) is spot on. And this is where it’s worth having great quality pasta and special olive oil. Not the stuff you’d cook with, but the secret, small 250ml bottle you keep on the shelf hidden behind the unappealing tin of mixed beans you kid yourself you’ll use one day. Be generous, this is its moment.

Ingredients for two
200g linguine (use spaghetti if you must)
2 cloves of garlic
Half a mild red chilli
Excellent quality olive oil
Salt and pepper
Grated fresh Parmesan to serve

Bring a huge pan of water to the boil and throw in more salt than the doctor would be happy with.
Add the pasta, return to the boil and stir occasionally until cooked al dente. Drain, but not quite fully – it’s better if you keep back a tablespoon or two of the starchy cooking water – and return to the pan.
While the pasta is boiling grate or mince the garlic, finely slice the chilli and add the olive oil to a saucepan. Heat until the garlic starts to fizz and bubble a little then season and remove from the heat.
Add the pasta to the oil, or the other way round if you haven’t enough space and mix so all the linguine is coated and silky with oil.
Serve immediately with a blizzard of cheese, black pepper and some more of that excellent oil.

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