Spaghetti Aglio Olio Recipe with Fresh Garlic and Bottarga

There are so many variations of this classic dish, that it’s difficult to decide which is the best Spaghetti Aglio Olio recipe that Italy has to offer! However, after trying the version popular on the Italian island of Sardegna, we added this to our list of favorites! Like every Spaghetti Agio Olio recipe, this one is made with just a few ingredients: garlic, olive oil and spaghetti— and bottarga!

Keep reading to learn about bottarga— a Sardinian delicacy— and what else makes this version of Pasta Agio Olio special!

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Spaghetti Aglio Olio with Flavia Diamante (filmed in Italy):

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Spaghetti Aglio Olio Recipe from Sardegna: How is it Different?

In general Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (Garlic and Oil Pasta) is a dish believed to have originated in Naples, where it is said to be a poor man’s version of the ever popular Spaghetti with Clam Sauce. In fact, in Neapolitan dialect, this this is often referred to as ‘Vermicelli con le Vongole Fujute’— which literally means ‘pasta in which the clams escaped’!

This Sardinian recipe is different from most Aglio Olio recipes circulating in Italy in one key way: the garlic and oil sauce is prepared fresh (unheated) using mortar and pestle! Honestly, when we came across this variation, we were blown away that more Italians weren’t making the dish in this way. Here’s how you do it!

Mash the Fresh Garlic into a Paste—using the Best Mortar and Pestle for the job!

Essentially, Sardinians treat the fresh garlic like a traditional Pesto Genovese (minus the basil, cheese and pine nuts). They mash the cloves into a paste—a quick and simple job when using a traditional Italian mortar and pestle like this one ‘Made in Italy’ that we have in our Italian kitchen:

Our ‘Made in Italy’ Bembo Mortar and Pestle is available on Amazon! (affiliate link). Here we are about to grind garlic for just one portion of this pasta.

Garlic is very easy to mash into a paste using a sturdy mortar and pestle like this one. The mortar is very heavy (made of Italian white marble) and the pestle is an ergonomic beechwood. You can lightly pound the garlic cloves just to flatten them, but then use only a grinding motion to mash the garlic into a paste. Adding a pinch of coarse salt to the garlic helps add an abrasive element. The whole mashing process shouldn’t take longer than 3 minutes, but usually can be done in less.

Remove the Garlic 'Germ': Some older garlic will have a visible greenish 'germ.' There are those who always remove this germ, believing it to be bitter and harder on the digestion. We don't always follow this rule. However, in this case you will want to remove the germ because it can be slightly tougher than the rest of the clove, making it harder to mash the clove into a smooth purée.

Mix in the Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Once the garlic has been ground into a smooth paste, it’s time to slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil. Use the pestle to mix it vigorously with the garlic paste, infusing the oil with garlic. If you like, add a pinch of ground red pepper as well.

Finish with Pasta and Bottarga

Combine spaghetti cooked to al dente with the cold garlic and oil sauce and a generous grating of bottarga and a handful of minced Italian flat leaf parsley. You can also top the finished pasta dish with bottarga. Serve!

What in the World is Bottarga?

Sardegna (Sardinia)—the beautiful island off the coast of Italy—is famous for its production of Bottarga di Muggine. This bottarga is made from the roe of grey mullet (Mugil cephalus). This Sardinian delicacy is highly prized and considered one of the finest examples of bottarga in the world. Some refer to it as ‘poor man’s caviar.’

Bottarga di Muggine from Sardinia is celebrated for its delicate flavor and slightly softer texture compared to other varieties. The process of making it involves salt-curing the roe sacks of the grey mullet and then air-drying them until they take on a firm, dry consistency. The result is a golden or amber-colored delicacy that encapsulates the essence of the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s often thinly sliced or grated and used in a variety of dishes, adding a unique depth of flavor. One of the most traditional and simple ways to enjoy Bottarga di Muggine in Sardinia is in spaghetti dishes, where it’s gently mixed with olive oil, garlic, and pasta, letting the rich, savory flavor of the bottarga shine through. This Sardinian bottarga is not just a food item; it’s a reflection of the island’s rich culinary heritage and deep connection to the sea.

Here’s the bottarga that we purchased while in Sardegna:

Bottarga di Muggine from Sardegna (Sardinia)

The Ultimate Mediterranean Diet Recipe?

Well, it’s stiff competition to choose the ultimate Mediterranean diet recipe from among so many authentic Italian pasta recipes. However, this pasta dish is definitely in the running. Why?

Not only does this dish contain several ingredients characteristic of healthy Mediterranean cooking, but it features those ingredients in their most nutritious form! The extra virgin olive oil and the garlic is added to the pasta and consumed unheated (aside from residual pasta heat).

But wait, there’s more! The bottarga itself not only packs a punch in the flavor department, but it’s also brimming with nutrients. Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and a good source of protein, bottarga is an indulgence you can feel good about.

Mastering the Dish: Products We Recommend

Here are some links (Amazon affiliate) to the products we recommend (and use ourselves) for making the best version of this Spaghetti Aglio Olio recipe from Sardegna.

Best Mortar and Pestle? Made in Italy!

► 'Made in Italy' Mortar and Pestle:

Made with Italian White Carrara Marble, this ‘Made in Italy’ masterpiece comes with a beechwood Pestle. It’s the traditional brand associated with making the regional Pesto Genovese (authentic Basil Pesto recipe)—which you can also find on this site!

Pasta Selection

For the best Spaghetti Aglio Olio, use a pasta that says it is ‘bronze drawn’ (trafilato al bronzo). This means what it says: the pasta has literally been cut with a bronze pasta stamp or cutter. This creates a more porous texture to the pasta which has many advantages—such as allowing the pasta to release more starch and to provide it with the best texture. For more, check out our guide to the Best Pasta Brands in Italy.

Spaghetti La Molisana:

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Spaghetti Aglio Olio Recipe with Fresh Garlic and Bottarga

Spaghetti Aglio Olio as it is often made on the island of Sardegna—with fresh mashed garlic and a sprinkle of bottarga!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 11 minutes
Total Time 16 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian, Mediterranean
Servings 4 people


  • 1 Mortar and Pestle for mashing the garlic to a paste; see the product we recommend in the article!


  • 4 cloves fresh garlic mashed to a paste with a mortar and pestle
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 handful flat leaf Italian parsley minced
  • fine salt to taste
  • 12 oz spaghetti
  • 3 ½ oz bottarga grated; Bottarga di Muggine of Sardegna is traditional


Cook the Spaghetti

  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. When the water is boiling, cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions for al dente. In the meantime…
    12 oz spaghetti

Prepare the Garlic and Oil

  • Remove the 'germ' (if there is one) from the center of the garlic cloves. It tends to be tough and will be harder to grind into a paste.
    Roughly chop the cloves of garlic, then grind them with a pinch of coarse salt into a smooth paste using a mortar and pestle. Use a circular motion (rather than a pounding motion) with the pestle to mash the garlic.
    4 cloves fresh garlic
  • Slowly drizzle in (and mix) the olive oil with the garlic paste to infuse the oil and create a more homogeneous sauce.
    ½ cup olive oil

Finish with Pasta

  • Transfer the cooked, drained spaghetti immediately to the cold garlic and oil sauce. Add grated bottarga, salt to taste, minced fresh parsley. Stir to combine and serve!
    fine salt, 3 ½ oz bottarga, 1 handful flat leaf Italian parsley



Do I have to add the bottarga?
Of course not! Bottarga can be difficult to find. This dish can be made without it, or by adding other Spaghetti Aglio Olio ingredients that you may prefer like a pinch of ground red pepper, breadcrumbs or anchovies.
Keyword healthy, pasta
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