red hot calamarata with 20 cloves of garlic

for our dearest valentines only

I don’t do much for Valentine’s Day.

Before I started cooking for a living, I’d come home to some flowers, a glass of wine, and my favorite pasta dish—cacio e pepe—made expertly by my husband. Then we’d do what we usually do to wind down, like catch up on our favorite shows or watch a movie. It was low-key and perfect. But since I started making pasta, it’s with reasonable expectation that I develop complicated recipes to celebrate this holiday. Valentine’s Day is, of course, designed for over-the-top gestures, and homemade pasta—like dazzling pink cappelletti or uovo in raviolo (oversized ravioli hiding a surprise runny egg yolk)—is certainly a labor of love.

This year I’m breaking the mold. Instead of an hours-long project (don’t worry, I’ll share one of those with you, too!), what I really want on Valentine’s Day is something simple—sit-back-and-relax-on-the-couch food—but also something that hits all the flavors that I truly and passionately crave. And I’ll admit that’s almost never pink cappelletti or egg yolk ravioli. No, it’s something spicy. Something garlicky. Something with big, wide tubes of pasta—the type of noodle with such delicious bite that I might run to the kitchen and cook some up right now.

This recipe is a Valentine’s Day gift to myself, wrapping all of those delicious desires into one satisfying meal. It’s got 20 cloves of garlic—yes, I said 20; just embrace it!—and enough spice to make my ears tingle. It’s got good olive oil and scarlet tomato passata glossily coating mighty calamarata. And it takes less than an hour to make (the holiday falls on a Tuesday, after all), so you can spend more of the evening with your Valentine—whether that’s your SO, your best friend, or your wonderful self—than in the kitchen. But be warned: this is not first, second, or even third date material. This is for the ones you really love.

A few notes:

  • This recipe calls for crushed Calabrian chili peppers. If you’re a spice lover like I am, a jar of this stuff is worth seeking out. It’s spicy, yes, but also fruity and salty, with plenty of chili oil that pools in the jar to drizzle on top when serving, not to mention on toast, eggs, and anything, really. My favorite brand is Tutto Calabria (linked below).

  • This dish is easily made vegan—just omit the butter and use a bit more of the reserved garlic oil. I like adding the butter because it lends a little sweetness, so you can also swap it for a dairy-free alternative.

  • Use the remaining garlic oil in dressings or with bread and roasted vegetables. Keep it refrigerated in an air-tight container.

  • Best way to peel a lot of garlic? I tried a few methods and found vigorously shaking the unpeeled cloves between two lightweight mixing bowls for about a minute—not 20 seconds like this video claims—helped quite a bit. It’s loud though! You can, of course, also use pre-peeled garlic.

Red Hot Calamarata with 20 Cloves of Garlic

Serves 4

The full video is for paid subscribers

Meryl Feinstein