Spaghetti with Anchovy Sauce

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Another trip down memory lane. As a child asking “What’s for dinner?”, I used to dread hearing the words “pasta acciughe,” Italian for “anchovy pasta.” But unlike many kids today, my brother and I had to eat, or at least try, whatever was put in front of us. “It’s an acquired taste,” my dad would say.

Well, I must admit it took me a few years to acquire that taste, but now I’m happy I did. Pasta acciughe was frequently served in our home as a first course on Friday nights, as well as during Lent, when we weren’t allowed to have meat. For the longest time, I thought having to eat it was a kind of penance for misbehaving.

Anchovy sauce is both simple to prepare and cooks in about the same time it takes to make the pasta. There are many variations of this dish, but mine is among the most straightforward. It has 4 ingredients: olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and fresh parsley. What I like most about it is that nothing interferes with the pungent, slaty, savory flavor of the anchovies. And although this dish is sometimes served sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs, I prefer to enjoy mine plain. For me, the breadcrumbs detract from the unctuous texture and briny flavor of the sauce.

For this recipe, I like to use canned salt-cured fillets packed in oil. My favorite brand is Agostino Recca.

Spaghetti with Anchovy Sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced fine
10 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
8 oz spaghetti
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

In a 10” heavy bottomed skillet, poach the garlic in the olive oil over low heat for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. The garlic should take on only a minimum of color.

Mid-way through the poaching, start cooking the pasta in well salted water. Try to time the cooking of the pasta so that it will be al dente when the sauce if finished.

When the garlic is finished poaching, place the anchovies in the pan and continue to cook mashing them with the back of a wooden spoon until they dissolve into the oil. (About 2 minutes.) When they have dissolved, add the parsley and continue to cook still over low heat for about 2 minutes.

Sauce waiting for the pasta
Sauce waiting for the pasta

Using tongs or a spaghetti fork, transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet. Take off the heat and toss the pasta with the sauce until nicely coated. If the sauce is too thick, add a tablespoon of the pasta water to loosen it up.

Sprinkle, if desired, with some freshly ground black pepper and serve.

Wine Pairing: Pecorino, Falanghina.

Spaghetti with Anchovies

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It was a hectic day and I couldn’t go shopping for dinner. Luckily, I had some oil-packed anchovies and fresh, well almost fresh, parsley in the fridge. The pantry yielded a half box of spaghetti, garlic, and olive oil.

What to make was obvious: another dish from my childhood that I actually hated then but love now: pasta acciughe, or spaghetti with anchovies.

Spaghetti with Anchovies (Serves 2)
4 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced fine
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
5 or 6 oil-packed anchovies
2 Tbs fresh Italian parsley
8 oz spaghetti
Fresh black pepper

  1. While the water starts to boil for the pasta, put the olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes in a pan and poach over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring and making sure the garlic takes on no color.
  2. Start cooking the pasta, according to package directions for al dente.
  3. Add the anchovies to the pan, smashing them with the back of a wooden spoon until they dissolve into the oil. Add 1 Tbs of the the parsley and cook for just a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat.
  4. When the pasta is done, transfer it with tongs to the pan with the sauce. Add another tablespoon of parsley, a few grinds of fresh black pepper, and toss to coat the pasta. If too dry, add a tablespoon or so of the pasta water.

Serve on warmed plates.

This dish is sometimes served with toasted breadcrumbs, which is fine if you want a heavier dish.

Another version of this dish can be found in Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, Calzone. Here a link to the recipe online.

Wine Paring: Lacryma Christi Rosso, Nero d’Avola, Syrah