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Salt, pepper, oil, acid, and the right cooking method can make any ingredient taste complete. That’s the best lesson from Where Cooking Begins ($21) by Bon Appétit food director Carla Lalli Music. In her book, she teaches six simple techniques that will free you from the chains of recipes and make you a better, more creative cook. It’s full of ideas and inspiration — not rules — so you can learn to read a recipe and confidently make it your own. See for yourself with Music’s recipe for spaghetti aglio e olio (below), which you can customize even when your fridge contains nothing but a sad handful of herbs and a wedge of cheese.

Where Cooking Begins celebrates the power of Salt and Pepper Cooking (SPC), which guarantees a great-tasting meal from just olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh lemon juice. SPC works with all six basic cooking techniques: sauté, pan-roast, steam, boil and simmer, confit, and slow-roast. Each of these techniques has its own section in the cookbook, where Music explains how to SPC any main ingredient and follows up with a dozen examples.

SPC is no revolutionary concept, but it feels revolutionary when you’re used to following recipes down to the exact spice. Music empowers you to plan meals not based on specific recipes, but based on the protein you’re craving or the beautiful vegetable you found at the farmers market. “When you let go of the idea that you have to shop for a specific list of ingredients, you’ll develop the confidence to wing it and make substitutions based on what you find in your own spice drawer,” Music writes in the first chapter. That freeing mindset will enable you to make an impressive meal no matter what’s in your fridge. The same freedom goes for this spaghetti aglio e olio with parsley and red pepper. Substitute any long pasta for spaghetti and any herb for the parsley, and dinner is served.

spaghetti aglio e olio with all-o the parsley

(Serves 4)

Even when there is nothing to eat, there is always spaghetti aglio e olio. There’s lots of parsley in this version — maybe enough to convince yourself you’re getting a serving of greens. Keep this dish in mind when you’re staring down a bunch of herbs in the crisper drawer.

Ingredients:

  • kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti (or any other long pasta, such as bucatini or linguine)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, plus more for serving
  • 1 cup lightly packed chopped fresh parsley leaves and tender stems (or basil for sweeter notes or 1/2 cup chives to amplify the garlicky flavors)
  • Parmigiano, for serving

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta. Add pasta and set a timer for 2 to 3 minutes less than package instructions (it should be very al dente and will finish cooking in the sauce).

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbles appear and garlic is starting to turn translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Season garlic with salt and pepper (I like a lot of pepper, and I like how its flavor opens up in the oil). Continue cooking, breaking garlic into smaller pieces with the edge of a wooden spoon, until golden brown and softened, 3 to 4 minutes more. Add anchovies (if using) and crushed red pepper and stir until anchovies disintegrate, about 1 minute. If pasta is not yet done, slide skillet off heat.

3. Scoop out a cup of pasta cooking liquid, then drain spaghetti and transfer to skillet along with 1/2 cup pasta water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, add parsley, and cook, tossing constantly with tongs and adding more pasta water as needed, until pasta is al dente and sauce is just thick enough to coat pasta but there’s still plenty of extra sauce in skillet, 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Serve with more crushed red pepper and Parmigiano for grating over.

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(Reprinted from Where Cooking Begins: Uncomplicated Recipes To Make You a Great Cook. Copyright © 2019 by Carla Lalli Music. Photographs copyright © 2019 Gentl and Hyers. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.)