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Spaghetti con Acciughe

'E Vermicielle C'alice Salate
Spaghetti with Anchovies

Serves 2 or 3

 

So much depends on the fine points for this dish to be right. First, its appeal depends mainly on the quality of the anchovies and the olive oil, but there's much more to it than that. It's not as nearly foolproof as aglio-olio, with which it competes in popularity in Campania, because there's an extra ingredient to showcase and balance. In the province of Salerno, where anchovies are still preserved under salt or salt water in crockery; everyone understands these fine points, although, of course, not everyone agrees on what they are.

Much is made of cooking the anchovies at nearly the same moment that the spaghetti is done, a sort of acrobatic feat that can turn balletic with practice. The theory is, the anchovies are losing fragrance with every passing second. So you must time their sizzle, smashing, and dissolution in oil—a 15 to 20 second operation that requires full attention- about the same time that you should be draining the spaghetti. As for garlic, too much obscures the sweet-salty sea-breeze perfume of a Salernitan anchovy; so more than a hint is too much. On the other hand, if the anchovies aren't the absolute best, a little more garlic may be in order. Use your taste and judgment, as you must to make a grand success of it.

 

1/2 pound spaghetti
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 or 2 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
Big pinch hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
6 whole salted anchovies,
   thoroughly rinsed and filleted,
   or 12 oil-packed anchovy fillets, rinsed
4 or 5 tablespoons fine, dry bread crumbs

 

1. Cook the spaghetti in plenty of well-salted boiling water.

2. Meanwhile, in an 8-inch skillet, over low heat, warm the olive oil, the garlic, and the hot pepper together, pressing the garlic into the oil a couple of times to release its flavor. Cook until the garlic is soft and barely colored on both sides, then remove.

3. Seconds before the spaghetti is ready to be drained, add the anchovies to the hot oil and smash them into the oil, using a table fork or the back of a wooden spoon. They will dissolve quickly. Raise the heat slightly if necessary.

4. Drain the spaghetti and turn it into the skillet with the anchovy oil. Toss well until all the strands have been seasoned with the anchovy sauce.

5. Fork the spaghetti into warmed individual bowls or a large serving bowl. Toss the bread crumbs in the oil left in the pan, sprinkle them on the spaghetti, and eat immediately. (Cheese is totally inappropriate.)

 

Naples at Table
Cooking in Campania

By Arthur Schwartz
HarperCollins Publishers
Hardback, $27.50, November 1998
ISBN: 0-06-018261-X
Recipe Reprinted by permission.

 

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This page created July 1999


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