“Anchovies”. Some people have an instant thought “ultra salty, fishy, or just yuck. I once heard them described on an old sit-com as “salty, stringy shoelaces”. I get they’re pretty strong if you have the canned or jar version in such a way as to make them the focal flavour. I do not care for them on pizza for example. They’re great if you have them fresh or “fresh frozen” and grill them. Super simple; olive oil, salt and maybe a bit of garlic and then down the hatch. Or dredge them in seasoned flour and into the deep fryer for a quick sizzle and voila; delectable fish morsels. But they’re also one of the greatest flavour enhancers when added to dishes as part of the whole. Anchovies and lamb are a natural. I quite often mince an anchovy with garlic, oregano, salt and pepper as a marinade for lamb I’m going to grill. And I’ll add a recipe for lamb shanks with anchovies another time. And if you’re a fan of Caesar Salads, well guess what? They’re in there.
Here are 3 of the easiest pasta recipes where these tiny fish are co-stars in the ensemble cast. Embrace the anchovy. It’s your friend. And all the recipes here for the most part are inexpensive to make and the ingredients readily available.
The story behind the origins of this tomato based pasta sauce is “ladies of the evening, after a night of work would go to the local taverna to refuel on this simple and inexpensive dish”. Spaghetti is the classic it’s served over but the choice is yours.
This comes from Food & Wine but the same recipe can be found on a few sites. Takes a grand total of about 40 minutes to make and works out to approx. 3 cups.
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 6 anchovy fillets
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 x 398ml tins of whole (if possible), peeled Italian tomatoes in their juices, crushed by hand. You may wish to reduce the tomato liquid by 1/2 cup. Depends on how liquid you like your sauce to be plus how intense the flavour.
- 1Tsp sugar
- 2 sprigs basil
- ¼ cup chopped Kalamata olives
- 1 tbsp capers, drained.
- Salt & pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the garlic, anchovies and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the canned tomatoes with their juices. Stir in the sugar, basil, olives and capers. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer the sauce over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and is reduced to 3 cups, about 30 minutes. Season again with salt and pepper. Discard the basil sprigs and garlic. Taste and adjust if necessary.
Anchovy Pasta with Garlic Breadcrumbs
As adapted from Epicurious
- 8 garlic cloves, divided
- 5 ounces sourdough or other crusty bread, crust removed, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (or more) olive oil
- 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
- 12 ounces spaghetti or linguine
- 2 ounces finely grated Pecorino
- 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Very thinly slice 4 garlic cloves and set aside. Pulse remaining 4 garlic cloves in a food processor until finely chopped. Add bread and lemon zest and pulse until coarse crumbs form; season with salt and pepper.
- Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium. Cook breadcrumb mixture, stirring often, until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer breadcrumb mixture with a slotted spoon to a small bowl.
- Heat remaining 3 Tbsp. oil in same pot over medium-low. Cook reserved sliced garlic, stirring occasionally, until golden at edges, about 1 minute. Add anchovies and chiles and cook, stirring, until anchovies are dissolved, about 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions.
- Using tongs, transfer pasta to pot with sauce along with 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing often, until pasta is al dente. Add 3 Tbsp. pasta cooking liquid, then gradually add cheese, tossing until melted and emulsified. Remove from heat, add parsley, butter, and half of breadcrumb mixture and toss until combined and butter is melted. If pasta seems dry, add more pasta cooking liquid and oil and toss again. Season with salt and pepper, and more lemon juice if desired.
- Divide pasta among bowls. Top with remaining breadcrumb mixture.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
My first experience having this dish was at a friend’s and it was a revelation. That something so simple could be sooo good. I feel that way about a lot of Italian dishes. They are masters of manipulating a small number of ingredients into superbly flavourful dishes. There are many versions of this on the internet, not all of which include anchovies. This one is a riff on Rachel Ray’s with the addition of clam nectar to the pasta water in the end step. It’s optional but the friend who introduced me to A-e-O used it and it added that much more personality. Using fresh clams and their nectar would be the best way but Covid 19 is in full swing as I write this and getting fresh shellfish isn’t possible. Getting clam nectar/ juice however isn’t a problem.
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 6 anchovy fillets
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- Crushed red pepper, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- A couple of generous handfuls chopped parsley
- 1 can clam nectar
Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the spaghetti and cook until just shy of al dente. Drain, reserving half a ladleful of the pasta cooking water (a full ladleful if not using the nectar)
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add the anchovies over medium heat until the anchovies melt, about 1 1/2 minutes. Lower the heat and add the garlic; season with the crushed red pepper and black pepper. Let the garlic cook gently in the anchovy oil, stirring. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and half the can of clam nectar and the parsley, then the pasta. Taste to see if you want more nectar. Season with more black pepper and toss the pasta for 1 full minute to absorb all the flavors.