A 3-Ingredient Charred Scallion Pasta for Spring Weeknights

A 3-Ingredient Charred Scallion Pasta for Spring Weeknights


A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don’t count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we’re guessing you have those covered. This week, we’re showing scallions the love they deserve.

Italian aglio e olio is as simple as pasta sauce gets. In English, it translates to garlic and oil—and that’s just what it is: minced garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, hot spaghetti. Red pepper flakes are a probable bonus. Parsley, too.

“Romans say ‘spaghetti aio e oi’ as though it were one word,” Marcella Hazan writes in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. “They would as soon expect another pasta to be in the combination as the moon to change its course.”

Rest assured, we aren’t going to change the pasta shape. But we are going to change something else—something even more, dare I say, scandalous. We’re going to change the garlic.

Go on, try to find the garlic. (Just kidding! There isn’t any.)

Photo by Julia Gartland

I know what you’re thinking: Without aglio, it’s not aglio e olio! And you’re right. Because what we’re making is scallion and oil—a riff that’s so untraditional, there’s no way to translate it into Italian. Google says that scalogno means scallion or shallot, which seems strange (to the point of wrong). So I reached out to Emiko Davis—an Italy-based cookbook author and longtime Food52 contributor—for her take.

Scalogno is a shallot, or a small brown bulb like a small brown onion,” she told me. “Cipollotto (cipollotti plural) is a small white onion bulb with long white-green leaves. Scallions, which don’t have the bulb at the bottom, are hard to find in Italy unless at an Asian grocer, so there is no other word for them in Italian. They’re all called cipollotti.”

In other words? You probably won’t find too many Italians making cipollotti e olio for Sunday supper. But you will find me making it—again, again, again—for dinner in a pinch, because it’s as easy as it is green as it is good.

Like aglio e olio, this sauce is an ode to alliums. While garlic is the ultimate big personality, scallion is more subtle. It is oniony, but it’s also bright and grassy and, once cooked down, its flavor becomes as sweet as spinach. And treat it like spinach we will.

For one pound of pasta, Marcella Hazan’s aglio e olio calls for two teaspoons of finely chopped garlic. For half as much pasta, this recipe uses 3 bunches of scallions. I know, it sounds like too much. But it’s not.

One bunch gets roughly chopped, then charred in a roaring-hot skillet until the pieces are blackened in spots and nearly-caramelized elsewhere. Another bunch gets chopped a little smaller and added to the skillet. And another bunch gets chopped even smaller, practically minced, and added to the skillet. By mixing the knife cuts and cooking times, you get a scallion flavor that’s multidimensional—the sort of complexity worthy of becoming its own pasta sauce.

If you assemble a leafy salad to go with your meal, this dish could perhaps serve four. But if you’re like me, you’ll eat the spaghetti and nothing else. You’ll pour a glass of cold wine and push open the window, just to remember that winter is over, and soon enough everything will be green.

What’s your favorite way to use scallions? Do tell in the comments!

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