Despite having been a food writer, there are times when my fridge is practically bare — pitiful, really: the result of working too long and too hard. My strategy for those times is to keep my larder stocked with long-keeping staples that I can transmute easily into something delicious, satisfying and sustaining.
I make a sublimely elemental pasta dish with good quality tinned anchovies, mellowed and transformed by extra virgin olive oil, garlic, dried hot pepper, and parsley. The only truly fresh ingredient is parsley, a refrigerator staple that will keep well for a good week or so, and is easily bought at the local market. Garlic is always part of my arsenal.
It’s a formula I’ve relied on for years and has many permutations. Don’t care for anchovies? Leave them out, and use the spicy, garlicky oil to dress your pasta, along with the parsley and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, adding salt to taste. (If you toss it all with some pasta cooking water, the cheese will melt into a creamy sauce.) Toss in some cooked vegetables. Or leave out the hot red pepper and use fragrant black pepper at the end for aromatic punch.
I originally devised the dish after I’d been given a tin a wonderful anchovies in hot pepper oil. Should you come across some, follow the recipe, leaving out the peperoncino.
Method: Spaghetti with Garlic, Peperoncino, Parsley and Anchovies
If I have fresh mozzarella cheese or bocconcini on hand, sometimes I throw a couple of ounces, diced, into the sauced pasta. The garlicky anchovy sauce is also wonderful on practically any steamed vegetables, smashed potatoes and shell beans.
Serves 2, doubles easily for four
3 tablespoons extra-virgin oil oil
1 small garlic clove, grated or mashed
A piece of dried hot chile pepper (peperoncino), crumbled or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
10 imported anchovies drained, finely chopped
8 ounces imported spaghetti
1/2to 3/4 cup coarsely-chopped flat leaf parsley
Place a large pot of water on high heat to boil. Do not salt.
In a small skillet, combine the 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, chile pepper and anchovies. Warm over very low heat, stirring and mashing the anchovies against the pan, until they just begin to sizzle and have fallen apart. Remove from the heat.
Add the spaghetti to the water and cook until al dente. Use a measuring cup to scoop up about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and reserve. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Stir a few tablespoons of the pasta water into the anchovy mixture. Pour the anchovy sauce and parsley over the pasta and toss well to coat. Place the pot over low heat and toss the pasta for a minute or two to absorb the flavors, adding more cooking water as necessary to keep the pasta moist and make a slick sauce. Serve the pasta drizzling the remaining oil over each serving.