Do you love anchovies? I most certainly do and so decided to start with this old style recipe from before tomatoes were introduced to the island in the early 1800s. I’m a big fan of puttanesca and generally add extra anchovies. While this dish also focuses on the salty little fish, the flavors are quite different with the sweetness of currents to balance the saltiness of the anchovies. The dish is finished with toasted breadcrumbs for a different mouth feel, adding texture to the smooth pasta. It may not appeal to some, but I quite liked it.
Pasta with Salted Anchovy Sauce
Pasta con Salsa di Acciughe Salata
Based on the recipe in Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti
¼ c currants – soaked 5 minutes in hot water and drained
1 bunch fennel leaves (optional) *
1 lb spaghetti
2 parsley sprigs – left whole
½ c olive oil
¼ c pine nuts
2 cans anchovies in oil
1-2 garlic cloves – peeled and left whole
1 T fresh oregano -chopped
1 c toasted breadcrumbs*
I would recommend measuring out your ingredients and chopping the oregano first, before beginning, as this dish comes together very quickly.
Put the fennel in a large pot of boiling water. You will use this water to cook the pasta after you take out the fennel. Let boil for 10 minutes or until tender. It really isn’t as delicate as it looks. Remove fennel greens from the pot with a slotted spoon, drain and chop coarsely. Return the water to a boil and add the pasta.
Note: M Simeti cooks the anchovy sauce in a sauce pan that fits on the pasta pot, like a double boiler, using the steam from the pot to slowly cook the anchovies so they don’t turn bitter. Timing is everything with this method. You want to get your anchovies dissolved in the oil before your pasta finishes cooking.
If you’re game to try her method sauté the garlic cloves and parsley sprigs in the olive oil over med-high heat until the garlic starts to color, just two minutes or so. Discard the garlic and parsley, leaving the flavored oil in the pan and add the currents, pine nuts and anchovies. Cook over the steam from the pasta pot – making sure your pasta is not overcooking – until the anchovies dissolve in the oil. Add the oregano and cook for another minute to blend the flavors. Drain the pasta and combine with the anchovy sauce and fennel. Serve with the toasted bread crumbs.
Many of the recipes in Sicilian Food use wild fennel. I happen to have a volunteer fennel plant in the garden that I used as my wild fennel. Really don’t know how similar it is to the real thing. Fennel is optional in this dish and didn’t seem to add a lot of flavor, but it did add a nice green color to the finished product.
**Toasted Bread Crumbs
I used the left over bread from a dense loaf I had made earlier in the week. I sliced it and finished drying in a low – 200 degree oven. This takes a while depending on how fresh your bread is. I then pulverized the slices in the food processor and toasted the crumbs in a little olive oil over a med-high heat, being careful not to burn them. This worked quite nicely, resulting in crunchy bread crumbs.