Monthly Archives: January 2012

Better ate than never

True to form, I’m late! But not too late I hope, to wish you all a very Happy New Year, Buon anno and – raise your shot of vodka – szczęśliwego nowego roku. Lets hope it’s a good one, or a tasty one at the very least. Talking of tasty, I’d like to tell you about a recipe, an assembly really, of which I am extremely fond and slightly obsessed at the moment.

It’s a variation on the classic Roman pasta dish Spaghetti aglio, olio and peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, oil and chili) with the addition of three loyal kitchen companions, ingredients whose absence on my kitchen shelves makes me as twitchy as a smoker on a long haul flight: anchovies, capers and parsley.

As with Spaghetti Agio, olio and peperoncino, while your spaghetti is rolling around in a pan of well- salted, fast-boiling water, you cook the garlic and chill in olive oil. The oil should be warm enough to tame the garlic’s aggressive bite – tempering it into something a little milder and sweeter, but not so hot as to burn it and make it bitter. Next you add 6 (or in my case 7 or 8) anchovy fillets to the pan and – still over a moderate flame – you nudge and push the fillets around the pan until they dissolve, disintegrate and melt into the oil creating a curious brown sauce studded with garlic and flecked with fiery red flakes. Next you add some capers to the pan, stir for another minute or so before you add the drained pasta, a splash of pasta cooking water and finish things off with a fistful of chopped parsley. You toss everything together energetically, serve and eat.

There is nothing subtle about this dish, at least not the way I make it. It’s a deliciously bold and punchy affair! Which is hardly surprising considering the players: Anchovy, the most intensely fishy fish, strong and bold, garlic with its pungent sweetness, the heat of the chill, the quirky nip of capers, the grassy nature of parsley. Oily, salty, fishy, briny, hot and grassy! My god, it’s the pasta equivalent of a fumble with a rather attractive and robust fisherman on a grassy sand dune. But please don’t let my crude comparisons, the recipes simplicity or its late night supper speed deter you, this is a tasty plateful that knocks the socks off any number of over-worked, over-sauced, over-overed pastas.

You can of course use the finest, costliest jar of plump, pink anchovies you can lay your hands on, or the vastly superior salt packed ones (even though I feel the soaking required for these rather defeats the object and swift beauty of this supper). You can also use a little, flat, oval tin of workaday anchovies, the kind you find at most supermarkets, the kind I squash on hot buttered toast for a late night snack, fillets as loud, crude and salty as a Billingsgate fishwife.

The same goes for the capers, you can use the superior salt packed ones which need soaking and rinsing. I prefer the tiny ones preserved in brine for this recipe, they add a cheeky, briney bitterness that perks things up no end.

I wasn’t going to give you a list of precise ingredients, measurements and instructions today! Firstly because it’s all so simple, but secondly because a recipe with ingredients like these, ingredients with such strong personalities and flavors has to be a very personal thing. I for example like an excessive amount of anchovy, have no fear of garlic breath and like a caper in every forkful. I am however cautious with the chill. You might skip the capers altogether, play down the anchovy, up the chill and decide not to inflict overly garlicky post dinner kisses on your date. Then I realised the post would look lopsided without a written recipe, that my word count would be down and that I like the companionship of a recipe in the kitchen, even one I know I will follow very liberally.

So here it is. Please feel free to adapt and adjust accordingly.

Spaghetti with garlic, oil, chili, anchovies, capers and parsley

Serves 2

  • 2 – 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 – 3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into slivers (or left whole and gently squashed if you want to remove them before eating)
  • 2 -8 anchovy fillets in olive oil
  • 1 or 2 dried red chilis, or a good pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons capers
  • a handful of flat leaved parsley roughly chopped
  • 250g good-quality spaghetti
  • Bring a pot of  well-salted water to a fast boil. Cook the pasta until al dente.
  • In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized heavy based frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili and cook for a couple of minutes or until the garlic is fragrant and soft.
  • Add the anchovy fillets and gently nudge and mash them into the olive oil until they melt. Continue cooking until the garlic is quite soft and just beginning to turn golden, but not brown. Add the capers and stir.
  • Drain the pasta (reserving the cooking waiter) and add to the pan and toss to coat in the sauce. Add  the parsley and a little pasta cooking water and continue stirring to create a sauce with the olive oil.
  •  Serve immediately.

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I’ll say it again, Happy Happy New Year to you all. I’m not going to reveal all 47 resolutions, but I will tell you they include the words wine, more, sleep, chou farci, more, blog, good, more, write, camping, Palermo, more, fudge, fine, bacon, weekly, less, pickles, mother and more.


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