Hunger cravings seem to strike at times other than midnight. Especially for me. In my current rock-and-roll lifestyle, I tend to be ready-for-bed by 10 o’clock, fast asleep by the time the clock strikes twelve.
With the exception of those nights I’m out on the town listening to ear-pounding live music and drinking cheap cava until the wee hours, my need for quick hunger fixes will haunt me most often after a day of cooking for a client; a long day spent cooking; tasting and smelling everything but never stopping for a break to nourish myself.
We all have some kind of personal go-to meal that feeds an empty stomach and brings body and soul back together. And whether after a day of debauchery, hard work or world travel, I’m willing to bet that those foods contain lots of carbs, salt and spice.
An Italian-style midnight snack – la spaghettata di mezzanotte – completes my appetite for all of the above. I’ve enjoyed versions with anchovies, bread crumbs and chopped up fresh tomatoes, but the core of the plate has to be pasta – preferably spaghetti for the satisfying slurp factor; and lots of garlic, olive oil and chili.
Olio santo is hot chili oil from Calabria. There are worse things to be addicted to, which I guess is a good thing because this stuff has found its way into my everyday life and I l-o-v-e it. A little drizzle on homemade popcorn, a garnish on toasted bread strewn with arugula..it works.
I recommend making your chili oil in advance so that you might experience this holy trinity of delicousness; chili, pecorino and pasta.
It's worth making the olio santo separately ahead of time, just to have on hand for that spontaneous midnight craving. Of course, you can make this pasta without it; just add a bigger pinch of crushed red pepper.
For the hot chili oil (olio santo):
3 medium-hot fresh red chili peppers, such as Fresno; coarsely chopped
3 or 4 dried red chili peppers, such as chile de árbol; crumbled
1 cup pure olive oil
½ pound dried spaghetti or other pasta shape
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Chopped Italian parsley
Hot chili oil
Dried crushed red pepper (I like Aleppo pepper)
- To make the chili oil, puree all the chilies and oil in a blender until smooth. Pour into a small saucepan and bring to a low boil; simmer 1 minute. Remove pan from the heat to cool and infuse the oil.
- Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into a measuring cup. For clearer oil, avoid pressing down on the solids; if the mix starts to move slowly through the strainer, stir gently with a spoon and/or lift out some of the solids. Line the strainer with a piece of cheesecloth and pour the oil through one more time.
- Transfer the oil to an airtight jar or bottle; store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
- To make the pasta, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a small handful of salt. Add the spaghetti or pasta of your choice.
- Meanwhile, heat the onion, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat until it starts to sizzle; scoop out ½ cup of the boiling pasta water and add to the pan. Cover, lower heat and cook 5 minutes or until the onion and garlic are very tender.
- If there’s any water left in the pan, let it bubble away in the uncovered pan until reduced to a tablespoon or so.
- Once the pasta is just about done, drain and reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water in a small bowl.
- Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan over low heat, along with ½ cup of the cheese; stir enough water to blend with the cheese to coat the pasta.
- Serve in bowls drizzled with some parsley, hot chili oil, crushed red pepper and additional cheese to taste.