That night when the hens slept and everybody else ran

SpaghettiAglioOlioPeperoncinoIt’s night. Like 3 or 4 in the morning. Countryside. Everybody sleeps in the farmstead. It’s the 50s. Simple, hard life. You give to the earth, the earth gives back to you. You have some animals in courtyard to produce eggs, some meat, some milk. Half. The other half, the best half, goes to the owner of the land. Calloused hands and honest hearts. And at night, you just crash the cot. Bam.

A middle-aged woman has some trouble sleeping. You can see her getting up quietly and getting a glass of water in the kitchen. She drinks. And gives a quick slow look through the window. A shadow. Must be the insomnia. Again. Rustling. There’s something wrong. She screams to wake everybody. What’s going on?! Thieves! The hens! The hens! They’re stealing the hens! Her men fly out like furies from the home door, one after another, with big sticks, and they run, run, run. The fucking thieves are running away with the cages on their shoulders! Where are they? This way, this way! Run!

Then another scream, clear, firm, in the back, coming from the porch. It’s her. “Attiaaaameeeelo! Attiaaaameeeelo! I iaddini ca suno!!” which means, in true Sicilian dialect “You, Carmelo! You, Carmelo! The hens are here!”. Everybody is puzzled. What in the world…?! It took the men a couple of moments to understand. The cages had no bottom as the hens need ground to scrape with the claws. They knew it. Oh, how much they laughed that night thinking about the thieves’ faces when they would realize that they got no hens! The poor chickens must have wondered what was all that hubbub of people screaming, running and laughing. What a night!

This is one of my family’s stories I love most. When my amazing uncle Antonio tells it in Sicilian dialect in front of a good dish of Spaghetti aglio, olio and peperoncino, this is kinda the top of the world. Carmelo was his father, the woman his mother and the other men, were him and his army of brothers.

Spa-get-e all-l-yee-o, oll-io eh pep-err-own-chee-no is possibly the simplest and fastest thing you’ll ever make. It turns out to be the saving pasta when you run out of menu ideas and it’s fantastic for a Midnight Spaghettata. The original recipe has only 4 ingredients: pasta, garlic, EVOO, and red hot chili peppers. Mine comes with an emulsion of EVO, chili and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Ci metto un po’ di rossetto – I add some lipstick to it, as my Nonna would say.


5 oz of DeCecco Spaghetti
2 cloves of garlic
1 red hot chili pepper
2 fl oz EVOO
1 dry lb of organic cherry tomatoes
A pinch of salt
Red pepper , freshly ground


1) Smash the garlic cloves. Finely slice 10 cherry tomatoes. Clean the chili pepper removing the seeds and finely grinding it. Fill a pot with 2/3 of salted water and bring it to boil.

2) Warm the oil in a pan and when hot, add both garlic and chili pepper. Stir gently over low heat. When garlic is golden (but not burnt!), add the cherry tomatoes and let them sweat. Add spaghetti to the boiling water and cook till “al dente”.

3) Once the tomatoes are smashed, pass everything in the food mill and pour the emulsion back in the pan over VERY low heat. Quickly drain the pasta in a colander in the sink and pour it into the pan.

4) Sauté the pasta in the pan for 10 seconds till perfectly dressed. Grind some red pepper over it and serve hot!


“Peperoncino” does not have anything to do with “pepperoni”. Peperoncino’ means hot pepper. Peperoni is the plural of peperone which means peppers! Pepperoni in Italian does not exist, we call it salame (p. “salameh”).”Al dente” means that pasta (and rice) is cooked so as to be firm but not hard. “Al dente” also describes that veggies are “tender crisp” and still offering resistance to the bite, but cooked through.


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