Midnight Pasta

Whenever my dad goes out of town, my mom makes something called Snaffles Mousse, which is the drag queen who gets kicked off Drag Race UK in week one a military-grade garlic dip pungent enough to kill a vampiric horse. Eat it on Ruffles, or use it to fumigate your house!

Many of us grew up with a healthy fear of Too Much Garlic, but I don’t live that life anymore. This spaghetti made me rethink my entire relationship to the garlic arts. Welcome to the Cult of the Midnight Pasta. We have fabulous robes, and we don’t care what our breath is like.

This recipe comes from Ina Garten, but you can find versions of it everywhere. It’s called midnight pasta, because apparently it’s the comfort food chefs make for themselves when they get home at 3am after a 15-hour shift. It’s middle-of-the-night-staring-into-the-fridge food. It’s macaroni and cheese if you’re fancy as hell. It’s butter noodles on steroids. And it uses an entire head of garlic.

Best of all, it takes literally 20 minutes, and it makes a sensational frittata for lunch the next day. Like nearly all good pasta sauces, it’s thrown together quickly with stuff you have around. It’s Italian stir-fry. All you need is parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic, and parmesan.

Ok, real talk, this is just an Ode to Garlic. Everything else you only kind of need.

The secret is, you can’t crush the garlic and mince it – sorry chaps. It’s got to be sliced and gently coddled in oil, hardly taking on any color, for about 8-10 minutes, so that each slice turns into a mellow, sweet, melting little piece of heaven that everyone will hunt through the finished pasta to find.

I have yet to find the amount of garlic that, cooked this way, I DON’T want more of. It doesn’t have the spicy aggression of, say, a garlic bread or the pungent audacity of whatever too-garlicky thing you’re thinking of right now. It’s perfect umami goodness.

The only other note I have is that in most things, the parsley is purely decorative, but here it does add a fresh, tasty greenness that works well with the absolute Decadanza of cheese and garlic. It’ll still taste good without, but parsley really makes a difference, believe it or not. In my opinion, you can’t use too much. Just remember to check your teeth afterwards.

I just love it when vegetarian stuff is bad for you. It tickles me. It’s easy to make this vegan, too, if you have a vegan parmesan you love and trust, or want to turn to NutriYeast. But making something like this vegan makes me think of all my friends in college who were vegan on dining hall curly fries and oreos. That’s the true spirit of this dish.

Don’t spare any blushes. INDULGE.


3 tbsp olive oil, at least

8 cloves of garlic if you’re a coward, a whole head if you know how to party

½ cup grated parmesan, plus more for serving. Just a whole heck of a lot of cheese – grate until your hand hates you. Or use the stuff in the green cylinder – I can’t vouch for how it melts, but it sure is delicious.

A big fat pinch of red pepper flakes – like a teaspoon? But tread with caution – I’m pretty sure my red pepper flakes are extremely ancient and I’ve become overly confident. So, “to taste”. If you hate red pepper flakes, or heartburn, a lovingly liberal amount of black pepper wouldn’t go amiss instead.

As much parsley as you can stand to chop, at least one big bunch

1lb/500g spaghetti

1 cup pasta water

  1. Get your biggest spaghetti-making pot and pour in enough table salt to just thinly cover the bottom
  2. Fill it like ¼ of the way with fresh cold water from the tap, put it on the big burner to come to the boil.
  3. Fill the electric kettle you all went out and bought after last week’s tea post and set it to boil.
  4. Generously cover the bottom of a big frying pan with olive oil – about 3 tablespoons – but don’t put the heat on yet.
  5. Pretend you’re a Goodfella and slice your garlics. Guys, I wish this was less annoying than it is, but it’s not. The least-annoying way I know of peeling garlic is to take the rough bit at the base of the clove, slice it almost all the way off, and then use the bit that’s still connected to peel the skin up the side of the clove – it should hopefully split off pretty easily. Or, it’ll stab you right in the tender nail beds. You can just buy a bunch already peelt in a bag, I won’t tell.
  6. Garlic slicing notes: Obviously we are not doing the Paulie Razorblade Prison thing, here. Just slice them as thin as you have patience for. Are they all gonna be “even”? Or even “thin”? Of course not. Just do your best and try to make sure you don’t have just like half a clove clunking around in the pan.
  7. By the time you’re finished slicing, your waters should be at a boil. Pour the kettle stuff into the spaghetti pot stuff – does boiling the kettle actually help water boil faster, or is it just a way to break up the monotony of waiting for your pasta water? Who can say. Call in with your thoughts.
  8. Turn the olive oil and garlics on low and let them heat up gently together from cold. This should take a good long time – we’re going from completely still, to shaking hands at a boring work event, to just gently bopping around like a bunch of seniors (and me) at Aqua Zumba. We’re not going full mosh pit, we’re not doing bumper cars. Keep it decorous, and shake everything around every few minutes. Keep it cute, keep it bubbly.
  9. When your pasta water’s at a good rolling boil, add your spaghetti and set a timer for two minutes less than the package says. If it says 9 minutes, put the timer on for 7.
  10. Take a heat-safe measuring cup and carefully dip it into your pasta water – reserve on the side for later.
  11. Keep an eye on your garlics – by now they should be going slowly, evenly golden as they burble around in the jacuzzi, like your grandma on vacation in Florida. Not crispy, brown, or god forbid burned and bitter. Give the pan a shake and make sure nothing’s taking on too much color.
  12. Add a splash (up to half a cup) of pasta water and swirl. It’ll hiss a little, so watch out, but it also stops the garlics getting ahead of themselves.
  13. Add your pinch of red pepper flakes to the garlic sauce, or a few generous cracks of ground black pepper.
  14. Grate your cheese and chop your parsley so they’re ready to go – the pasta should be almost done by now. Swirl the garlics again.
  15. When the pasta timer goes, drain it and put it back in the big pot, then add your garlic sauce to it and put it back on the heat. Letting the pasta finish cooking in the sauce is a game-changer no matter what kind of pasta you’re making.
  16. Get your tongs and toss everything together. It’s fine if the soft garlics break up a little bit, but you still want some good chunks for later.
  17. Add the grated parmesan gradually, a big pinch at a time, and toss it well so that it melts into the sauce. If things get sticky, add a splash of your reserved pasta water to loosen it up. Continue until you’ve used all the cheese, your final two minutes of pasta cooking time are up, and you’ve got a gorgeous, glossy sauce.
  18. Take the pasta off the heat, add half the chopped parsley, and toss well. Taste for salt – it’ll probably need a little, but the pasta water and the parmesan will have taken care of a lot of it.
  19. Use the tongs to grab a big scoop of pasta and serve in the biggest bowls you have. Make sure you scrape up the good garlic bits at the bottom – they’re the best part. Serve with the rest of the parsley, more parmesan, and extra red pepper flakes for garnish.

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