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.


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.


Filed under food, olive oil, parsley, pasta and rice, Rachel's Diary, recipes, Uncategorized

26 responses to “Better ate than never

  1. Happy New Year to you and the lovely Luca

  2. Happy New Year to you and your beautiful boy. In fact, Happy New Year to you and to everyone you love.

    This pasta is delicious. My variation has less anchovy and more chili, but I would join you at your table any time I am invited.

    I hope the only “less” on your resolution list is for fewer tears.

  3. I raise a glass of new years cheer to you too – especially since my variation of your recipe often includes just what you suggested. Vodka! For some reason I’ve never used capers though. Thanks for yet another of your wonderful posts and recipes. Happy new year.

  4. Jessica

    Happy 2012 – glad to see a post from you!

    Oh, and “My god, it’s the pasta equivalent of a fumble with a rather attractive and robust fisherman on a grassy sand dune.” is probably the best food comparison I’ve EVER read.

  5. Hello! I too will be adding 7 or 8 fillets…

  6. laura

    Buon Anno, indeed. I hope yours ended well and began better. Such a treat when I find a new (and always amusing) heading on your blog. Always such a good read. And always such appealing recipes. Thank you also for the photos of your enchanting Luca.

  7. One of my all time favorite dishes. I will certainly add the capers next time and ramp up the number of anchovies. Gorgeous photo of your son. Happy New Year.

  8. Yes! Happy New Year. Good to see you back in business! This dish looks wonderful!

  9. Rach, I love your description–who could resist the pasta equivalent of a rumble w/ that robust fisherman in the sand dunes?

    all the best in 2012!

  10. Happy New Year to you too! Miss you quite a bit, Rachel, but know life’s busy. Wishing you the best from across the Atlantic. xx

  11. Christine

    I’m so happy to see you back here writing! Belated congratulations on your new addition!

    Also? The pasta looks delicious and is basically what I just ate but switch out the anchovies for some sardines in good oil. Best wishes for a happy new year!

  12. This is the perfect pasta. I love aglio, olio e peperoncino, and I love puttanesca even more. This is pretty much the base of my dad’s famous puttanesca (that I dedicated a post to), what makes me love it. The anchovies melting into that garlicy olive oil, into a brown, savory bir of heaven…mmh…yet I had never thought of using it on its own. Thank you for the tip, I am ready to run into the kitchen and make this righ now.

  13. s

    dear rachel, hope you and the baby are well. happy 2012 to both of you. love your dish, anchovies are so vastly (and unfairly) underated, esp in N. America. i love them in pasta- my recipe is similar to yours, except i havent tried it w capers. i like how you add them- must be so tangy and delicious. x s

  14. Buon Anno Rachel… e dai un bacetto a Luca!

  15. This sounds like a must try for me, although I will just dip my toes in the water and go a tad bit easier on the anchovies. The way you describe the anchovies dissolving into the oil is something I must see for myself! Happy New Year!

  16. Late or not, you are STILL the most inspiring food blogger I read 🙂

  17. amy

    happy new year to you too – i love the additions to anchovy in this, and in many dishes. people often wonder what gives a dish that extra thing and i usually won’t tell them it’s anchovy b/c they may not eat any more. but it really does add something to so many dishes.

  18. ileana

    This looks interesting!

  19. i love the way anchovies disappear into a sauce allowing you to sneak them up on those who profess to detest them. We make something very similar to this about twice a month when all that’s left in the pantry are staples. Occasionally, a fist full of green pimento stuffed olives work there way in there too, and, most probably, a good pinch of wild oregano too. It just makes for such a satisfying dish, and overall mouth feel. Great to stop by here again and lovely to hear from you over at WANF too. He’s getting bigger every time we see him and trust me, it doesn’t stop. Paolo’s doing the same and is now running around everywhere and gabbling nonsense constantly. Hence why we rarely have much more in the house than pantry staples!

  20. Rachel in Los Angeles

    hello Rachel in Rome!

    I made this the other night. we put anchovies in absolutely everything savory that we make, so naturally we loved this. Simple and delightful.

    We are visiting Rome in early June and planning to stay in Testaccio because you make it sound so lovely. Obviously we are prepared to frequent Volpetti Piu, and welcome any of your other recommendations. Perhaps we’ll spy you at the market.

    • rachel

      Hello Rachel
      Lots of suggestions. Linari in Via Zabaglia for cornetti and cappuccino. Passi il panifico in Via Mastro Giorgio for pizza bianca (and bread of course). Volpetto Piu of course – I love the rabbit. Felice in via mastro giorgio – you need to book (cacio e pepe is very good) or Perilli in via Marmorata (artichokes and lamb) and Flavio are all excellent for more serious longer lunches and dinner. Augustarello in Via branca is the place if you want really authentic (tripe and all) Roman kitchen. I really love La torricella in Via torricella for sunday lunch (get a table outside). Nuovo mondo in Via amerigo vespucci for pizza Romano and a beer. As much as I love Giolitti in via amerigo Vespucci I would skip the ice cream there and opt for a post pizza amaro at it’s wonderful bar and then wander up viale aventino to federica at il gelato for seriously good gelato.
      Katie Parla and Elizabeth Minchilli are both brilliant resources.
      This man – really knows Testaccio and his food, if I was coming to Rome, I’d be booking to meet Kenny and his hats. Also (not in testaccio) but a seriously good, informative and wonderful way to pass a couple of hours is with Hande in another brilliant quarter Monti learning about Italian wine –
      Hope you have a terrific trip and maybe we will bump into each other

  21. Pingback: Spaghetti with Anchovies and Capers « Kicked Back and Gluten-Free

  22. Pingback: recipes | Pearltrees

  23. made this last night and OMG……perfection!!

  24. Pingback: wochenrückblick | testballong

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s