Whenever I am in Spain and I see al ajillo on the menu, I always jump at it; I assume any slow-cooked sauce with olive oil, garlic and paprika must be good. In Mexico, an almost identical dressing uses guajillo chillies instead of paprika. The chillies, mild in heat and sweet in flavour, impart a beautiful, terracotta colour to garlicky oil, and I heartily recommend getting hold of some (they can easily be found online).
Crab pasta al ajillo
Riccioli is a tight coil pasta shape that captures the crab sauce well, but fusilli works well, too.
Prep 5 min
Cook 15 min
3-4 guajillo chillies (or other mild to medium dried chilli)
Salt and black pepper
300g short pasta – I like riccioli or fusilli
80ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
5-6 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
200g crab, white and brown meat
A large handful of parsley, leaves finely chopped (save the stems for another use)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Remove and discard the stems and seeds from the chillies, then cut the flesh into thin, wispy rings or strips (I use scissors). Slice the garlic thinly and finely chop the parsley leaves, reserving the stems for a pesto or salsa.
Put a large pan of water on to boil, add half a teaspoon of salt and, once boiling, add the pasta. Cook for as long as indicated on the packet, while you heat some pasta bowls.
Heat a wide, deep saute pan on a medium heat and, after a few minutes, pour in the oil and warm it briefly (it should not be too hot, or you will burn the garlic and chillies). Add the garlic, cook for a minute, then stir in the chillies for a few minutes, until the garlic turns a pale tan colour.
Now stir in the brown crab meat and parsley and keep stirring until the crab has disappeared into the oil to create a creamy sauce. Grate over the lemon zest and squeeze in half the lemon juice. Taste and season.
By now the pasta should be al dente. Drain, reserving half a cup of the cooking water, and tip the pasta into the crab sauce along with half the white crab meat. Stir for a few minutes, adding enough of the cooking water to create a glossy, emulsified sauce.
Split the pasta between the bowls and top with the rest of the white crab meat, a grind of black pepper, a slick of extra-virgin olive oil and a final squeeze of lemon. Eat immediately.
The simple flex …
Ditch the crab and instead make espinacas al ajillo by wilting some spinach into the garlic and chilli oil before tossing it through pasta. Add some toasted seeds for crunch. You could also use swiss chard or nettles.