Aglio E Olio. It’s my pesto

I have a friend, a wonderful friend who I constantly mock about his eating habits. Mainly since the day I met him in university until today, he has a bottle of pesto in his cupboard to which he eats from at least once a week. When I went over to his new flat, the first thing I did was hunt through the pantry in the kitchen and there it was, a jar of pesto waiting. Just as I thought. Never mind my creepy behaviour in stalking through someone’s kitchen.

Of course, I often pet myself on the back and tell myself I am not going to succumb to eating pesto every other day. That’s just gross. There are so many things out there to eat, I can’t be eating pesto every day. I’m not like that.

Recently though, Eizwan pointed out something. Something along the lines of *cough* hypocrisy *cough*. I may not eat pesto but for the past eight years or so but my go to meal when it comes to pasta is aglio e olio, garlic in oil pasta.

“Aglio olio. Is your pesto,’ he snarked.

I eat it at least twice a week, I can make it in my sleep if need be. Would not be surprised if one morning I would wake up with a bowl of aglio olio on my lap. Stranger things have happened. I can write an ode to aglio olio if need be. But that would be weird. *Goes off to pen an ode, never written an ode before*

I don’t eat it outside – it would be silly since I cook it so often. Besides I doubt anyone could cook it as well as I do *pats oneself on the back* So when I attended the FHM Convention (Food and Hotel Malaysia, not well, the other sexier convention), I tend to scoff at anyone who makes aglio e olio and scarf down the other pastries, roast duck, gelato, potato pancakes on offer. FHM Convention. Seriously beats the Invest Malaysia one.

I was going to ignore the chef on the convention who offered me the aglio e olio in a plastic cup until my brother tried it and started raving about it. I had to go back and try it, and he was right. It was the best garlic oil pasta I’ve ever had. I spoke to chef about it, raving about how amazing it tasted. He was so chuffed that a sweet young thing (gimme a break, I know that I’m approaching 30 but I had such a pretty dress on that day I’d like to think I came across as a SYT) was complimenting him incessantly, that in between blushes he told me it’s not the product he used (which I’m sure his boss would not be pleased to hear, considering chefs are usually hired to show off the product) but he explained to me how he did it.

‘Amazing! Best I ever had!’ I enthused.

‘Come back in half an hour’s time,’ he said. ‘I’m making basil pesto pasta,’ he continued with knowing wink. Perhaps my compliments to the chef may have been taken the wrong way, should I have returned in half an hour, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had gotten a phone number along with my samplings.

The trick I found out is in roasted garlic oil and lots of dried parsley. Of course he gave lots of advice on al dente pasta, but of course, we all know that by now, *flicks hair to the back* And despite the chef’s claim that the dish was wonderful due to his cooking prowess, I do believe that ingredients is key, so good olive oil, good spaghetti is in order.

I’ve never been keen on making garlic oil for fear of botulism. Ah, you toxic bug, you follow me everywhere in all the cooking experiments I do. But after much research online, I figure that high heat kills the bacteria, but to be safe than sorry, separate the garlic cloves from the olive oil when you’re done.

To make Roasted Garlic Oil

Ingredients

150 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 heads of garlic, peeled.

Cooking instructions

  1. Take about a 150ml of extra virgin olive oil and about 2 heads of garlic.
  2. Combine the two in an oven proof container. Roast the garlic at 150 degrees Celsius until the garlic turns golden. It should take about an hour.
  3. Wait till it cools. Separate the garlic cloves from the oil and store the oil in a clean, sterilized jar. Eat the garlic cloves with bread. If that is too much garlic cloves, you may store it in the fridge.

To make the Aglio Olio:

Ingredients (makes for two)

200gm spaghetti (Barilla Spaghetti no 5 for me)
6 garlic cloves minced finely (I love it garlicky)
1 tbs dried parsley (fresh is better, but I live in Asia, so…)
1 tbs dried chilli flakes (I like mine spicy)
4 tbs garlic oil we made earlier
4 cloves of roasted garlic (optional but tasty)

Freshly grated parmesan cheese, none of that canned stuff.

Cooking Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta till al-dente. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat up about 2 tbs of garlic oil per person. Add in the chopped garlic and let it simmer at a low heat until it turns golden.
  3. Season oil with a little salt. The chef used a little bit of brown sugar, but I did not feel it was necessary.
  4. Add in pasta. Toss it with dried chilli flakes and parsley.
  5. Grate parmesan on top and you’re done.

Tis a meal for writers. Really.

How Food Poisonings Happen

So over the weekend, I was in my baju kurung, which thankfully was not one of the more beautiful ones that I own, seated on the grass outside my aunt’s house, by the drain with a sponge on one hand, a dirty plate on the other. It was the hot afternoon, my hair was sticking to the side of my face from sweat. The skirt of my baju kurung was hiked up to my knees, looking very unladylike but I did not care.

My brother was on hose duty and he sprayed the plastic plates that were handed his way by the way of a plastic tub filled with soapy water.

‘This is not hygienic,’ he moaned to my aunt. ‘We should have hot water.’

‘The sun is above you. The water below you. The water will get hot….eventually,’ my aunt smirked.

This was my weekend. In the morning I was attending my cousin’s engagement. By the afternoon a bunch of us were relegated to dishwashing duty because the original caterer that my cousin’s family had hired bailed out on them. In the end, they hired a caterer at the last minute who could only give food but no service.

Usually the caterers would take the dirty plates and wash them for the next batch of guests. Well, without a caterer, the alternative would be paper plates. Which all things considered, is not that bad an idea looking back.

As I scrapped off rice of the dish, trying not to gag, I say a silent prayer and focused all my energy to hoping horrible things will happen to the first caterer. I do this often, especially when a jackass cuts in front of me when I drive without signalling. I usually pray for his penis to fall off, or his kids to fail SPM.

So should you know anyone whose penis fell off, it’s probably he was a rude bastard on the road. Or he bailed out on someone’s wedding.

To be honest though, despite my moaning, and despite how dry my hands will be from using dish detergent on my bare hands, I was enjoying this. I love the camaraderie shared between me and my cousins, I loved that this harked back to the good old days where people used to gotong-royong (worked together) for weddings, where everyone had a part to play, be it cooking, decorating, cleaning up. It felt good to be working with your hands, and that in this assembly line of dish washing, we were all equals. And there is something very calming about working with your hands, the repetitive action of scrubbing and then rinsing and then drying.

‘Ooops!’ said my cousin as she dropped a plastic glass into the drain. We exchanged glances with each other. I think about the number of weddings I’ve attended, with the same plastic plates, a no-show caterer and road-side washing of the plates.

‘I suppose if you scrub it extra hard…’ I begin to say.

‘I’m never eating at weddings again,’ my brother moaned. ‘This is exactly how food poisonings happen.’

Roots Made of Concrete

Picture courtesy of sister-in-law, well, I hope she doesn't mind since I nicked it off her FB without permission.

Despite insisting that I was not going to get into the spirit of Eid, as it turns out, I had a lovely, lovely Eid. It was a lot more relaxed than the previous years – my family would usually make the trip to Johor before Eid and spend Eid in KL and Eizwan’s family almost never travel to Kelantan anymore since the entire family is here.

Eid is mostly a KL affair for my family, which still surprise a number of people. They look at you incredulously and splutter, “But, but what about your kampung (village)? What about your buffaloes, geese, and ducks and the long stretches of paddy fields?” It is well known that Eid in Malaysia (well, actually, any holiday really) is a time for people to balik kampung (going home to your village) to reconnect with your roots.

Well, I’m always connected to my roots since my roots are made of concrete.

It is really hard to explain to people that my grandmother would not know what to do with a buffalo, and as mind-boggling as it may seem to some, there are those of us who grew up in the city, my generation, the generation before me and the generation before them. I’ve no idea what my great-great-grandfather did before he left for Malaysia (or Malaya back then). Legend has it that he hopped onto a little sampan (a tiny boat) and paddled all the way from Java to make a new life in Johor. In the city.

My paternal great-grandfather came from China. There might be ducks, geese and paddy fields from where he came from but I would not know. Not much is known about him at all, from the stories I’ve heard, he was keen on forgetting where he came from, the few things he brought with him from China was a little seal bearing his family name. He got himself converted and married three lovely young women as one did back in the day, but that’s another story for another day.

Me, Eizwan and SIL at a relative's house.

So, no. I’m as city girl as it gets. Plus, if there were geese during my Eid, it would make my mother very unhappy. Geese and her are no mixy. They are sworn mortal enemies. My mother still speaks of them in a hushed whisper, faint lines of trauma visible on her face as she speaks about the time a gaggle of geese chased her down the road when she was coming back from high school with no one to rescue her.

Come to think of it, if you can get geese in the city, why do you need to go back to the village for the holidays?

But Happy Eid everyone! Hope it was as wonderful as mine.