Aglione sauce is a sweet, garlicky tomato sauce perfect for pairing with thick, chewy fresh pici pasta.
I'm the type of person that goes through at least one bulb of garlic a week, maybe even two depending on what I'm cooking. I love all forms of garlic: pungent, sharp, raw grated garlic swirled into yogurt; sweet, melt-in-your-mouth garlic confit; and crispy fried garlic to top a noodle bowl.
So when I was searching for ways to serve my homemade pici, I was utterly ecstatic to find a recipe for sugo all'aglione, a rustic Tuscan tomato sauce with lots of garlicky flavor.
What is Aglione?
Aglione is a rare garlic varietal from Valdichiana, an area between Tuscany and Umbria in Italy.
Friends, this is not any ordinary garlic; aglione is a lesser known variety that is LARGE (and in charge, ha). In fact, the whole bulb can grow up to 800 grams (that's 1.75 pounds!).
What's more, aglione is much sweeter and milder than regular garlic. It's actually been dubbed "kissing garlic" because it's odorless and easier to digest.
Traditionally, pici all'aglione featured aglione garlic swimming in a simple sauce of tomatoes and olive oil. In more modern history, however, many restaurants in the area used regular garlic because of the lack of availability. In present day, there are movements to cultivate and bring back aglione.
Most of us don't have access to aglione, so instead we'll need to make use of regular garlic! With a few tricks, we can coax out its sweetness, yielding a milder flavor to mimic the classic dish.
Aglione sauce requires just a few ingredients, so it's very pantry friendly.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Because of the simplicity of the dish, it's important to include a good amount of olive oil to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Garlic: Most of us don't have access to aglione garlic, so regular garlic will do the job.
- We'll be using a lot of garlic here, but by cooking it slowly over low heat, the garlic will have more of a sweet, mellow flavor (like aglione) so it won't feel overpowering. Thanks to a great tip from Memorie di Angelina's blog!
- Red Pepper Flakes (optional): I like adding red pepper flakes to give a bit of bite to the sauce. You can omit this if you don't like the heat.
- Whole Peeled Tomatoes: I recommend using the best quality canned whole peeled tomatoes you can find. You'll want a can with juicy, flavorful tomatoes that aren't too acidic. I love Bianco diNapoli tomatoes and Mutti brand.
How to Make This Dish
First, you're going to want to smash your garlic cloves with the flat side of the blade. Make sure every clove is crushed so that it softens evenly.
Here, the key is to cook the garlic low and slow so that it transforms from a harsh, pungent flavor to a sweet, mellow flavor. Once it's begun to soften and turn pale golden brown, you're ready to add the red pepper flakes.
Add the canned tomatoes and simmer them in the sauce for 15 minutes until it's thickened nicely and the tomatoes have mellowed and lost their raw acidity.
Once the sauce is done, you can toss it with the al dente pasta. Here, I like to simmer the sauce with the pasta for a minute or two so that the sauce clings to the noodles. I always make sure to save some pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed.
Leftover pici all'aglione will last about 2-3 days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You can reheat it over the stove or in the microwave until warmed through.
After a day in the fridge, the pici will continue to absorb the sauce, so they may taste slightly softer or overcooked.
Aglione garlic is often harvested in June in Tuscany, so if you live in the area, you can often find it in specialty shops and farmers markets during the summer.
If you live outside of Italy, it can be tough to find. You may be able to grow it yourself or order it (though it can be expensive). Cooking regular garlic at a slow temperature yields a milder flavor, similar to aglione.
For more details, I recommend ItalyBite's Aglione product details.
Aglione garlic, grown in Tuscany, is a variety of softneck garlic that is larger and milder than regular garlic, while elephant garlic is a different species of garlic altogether that has large cloves and a milder flavor than regular garlic.
You can substitute elephant garlic for aglione in this recipe if that's what you have (you'll need fewer cloves since elephant garlic has huge cloves).
Pici is a thick spaghetti-shaped pasta, so I'd recommend dried pici, bucatini, or thick spaghetti. It won't have that same chewiness, but it'll still be tasty!
This can happen if your tomato sauce is on the more acidic side. If you stir in a tablespoon or two of butter, it will help balance the flavors! Alternatively, you can throw in a very small pinch of baking soda to neutralize the acidity (start with just ⅛ teaspoon).
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 8 large garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional | omit if you don't want the heat
- 28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes, hand-crushed | look for high-quality canned tomatoes (see notes below)*
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional (if needed to quell the acidity of the tomatoes)
- 18 ounces
fresh pici pasta, or 16 ounces (1 lb) dried pici, bucatini, or thick spaghetti
- Saute the garlic: To a large dutch oven, add olive oil and garlic and set over medium-low heat. Once the oil begins to sizzle, about 3-4 minutes, reduce the heat to low and cook the garlic for about 12 to 16 minutes, or until it has softened and turned pale golden-brown.5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 8 large garlic cloves
- Add the red pepper flakes: Stir in the red pepper flakes (if using) and saute for 1 minute until aromatic.1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Simmer the tomatoes: Add the tomatoes and season with a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the flavors have melded nicely and the tomatoes have thickened slightly.28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes, Salt, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- At this point, the tomatoes should no longer taste overly acidic and the sauce should taste well-seasoned with hints of sweet garlic. If the sauce still tastes quite acidic, stir in the butter to help quell the acidity. Note: If the sauce tastes quite acidic even after 15 minutes, you can optionally stir in some butter to help cut the acidity. Smash the garlic with a wooden spoon so that it disintegrates into the sauce.
- Cook the pasta: Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, season with a generous pinch of salt. Cook the pasta until just before al dente (according to recipe instructions / package directions). Reserve 1 cup pasta water.18 ounces fresh pici pasta
- Serve: Using tongs, transfer the pasta to the skillet and toss to combine with the tomato sauce. Stir in ¼ cup pasta water, and simmer the sauce until it begins to thicken and cling to the noodles. Season again Note: You can add more of the pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce.