A Saucy Little Thing
Agliata most likely has its origins in the Ligurian province of Italy, and was popular during the Middle Ages as it was easy to prepare and very affordable for many poorer families. It was a way of making boiled meats and ageing fish more palatable, and could be used in preserving food too.
The original recipe was called aggiadda, and was pretty much just a mix of crushed garlic and olive oil that was served alongside bread. The version of agliata described in this Entry is a modern variation used with pasta, but delicious nonetheless. However, be warned, the garlic taste will remain for a good while after eating; perfect if you decide to go off hunting vampires, but not so great if you're planning a hot date...
To serve about 4 people, depending on how hungry they are.
- 4-8 cloves of garlic (to taste, usually one or two cloves per person)
- 2-4 oz (50-100 grams) of bread crumbs from a stale Italian bread like ciabatta (weighed after removal of the crust)1
- 1-2 tbsp of red wine vinegar
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup of finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp of chili pepper (optional, but nice to give the sauce a bit of a kick)
- pasta for four persons (either a simple spaghetti or gnocchi)
Soak the breadcrumbs in the red wine vinegar and while the bread is soaking, grind the garlic cloves with a pestle and mortar, making a fine paste. Add in the parsley and chili pepper and beat together until you have a nice consistent mixture. You can use a food processor if you like, but the wonderful aromas and sense of accomplishment might not be as high this way.
Once you have your paste, squeeze out any excess moisture from the bread crumbs and add these to the garlic paste, beating vigorously. While beating, pour in very slowly and steadily the olive oil so as to obtain a smooth mixture. Once you are happy with the consistency add it to your already prepared pasta and toss the pasta and sauce together lightly. You can, if you wish, warm the sauce over a low heat on the oven before adding to the pasta.
Agliata is a great sauce for making sometimes blandish pasta a bit more interesting, and tossing it through either capellini (angel hair) or trofie (Ligurian gnocchi) makes a fine meal, as long as you have a nice crusty loaf, some good butter and a nice bottle of Italian wine (Australian or Chilean will do fine too2) to go with it. Agliata also makes a nice accompaniment to fried fish or vegetables, and for those who don't mind garlic breath it can be made to eat with various antipasto to spread on crusty bread, as the ancient Romans would have. A nice little apéritif to an orgy perhaps.
Something completely different. Well, nearly. The simplicity of the sauce means you can have a bit of a fiddle about with different ingredients for different sorts of meals. Try adding some crushed walnut and a little lemon juice to go with tagliatelle pasta, or for a more creamy sauce to go with meats like chicken or beef steak add either a little milk or even a soft cheese over heat. By doing this you then have the option of altering the colour of the sauce too! With extra parsley or fresh basil you can make a beautiful agliata verde, or with extra chili a nice red tone will give a fantastic coloured sauce that goes brilliantly with steak. Have fun experimenting with colours and flavours, you can't really go wrong.