On a Zoom happy hour recently, I asked what everyone was having for dinner. Four for four, pasta.
No surprise there. Everyone loves spaghetti and other dried pastas, and naturally they’re among the staples we’re stockpiling these days.
Other ingredients I never like to be without: olive oil, bread, anchovies, garlic and hot red pepper. Conveniently, these are the makings for a classic spaghettata–an anytime pasta feast made in minutes.
I use one or two anchovies for background umami in all kinds of dishes. But for this bring-it-on dish, I toss the hot spaghetti with six glossy fillets for the two of us. Garlic slivers, simmered gently in olive oil until they just begin to color, and hot red pepper flakes add kick, while handfuls of arugula sound a gently bitter note.
If you have a choice between a tin of anchovies that costs $2 and a jar of meaty Sicilian anchovies that costs considerably more, go for the second option. And an artisanal kind of spaghetti will likely have better texture.
You could mix in a little grated Parmigiano Reggiano and it wouldn’t be wrong. But I prefer to sprinkle each serving with toasted breadcrumbs, a southern Italian touch. Not the kind that comes in a carton, like panko, but freshly made, toasted breadcrumbs. I learned to make them from a great Sicilian cook, Fiorangela Piccione.
In a skillet with just a smear of olive oil, the fresh crumbs are cooked over medium-high heat while you stir them almost continuously. They color unevenly, but eventually all reach a delectable stage of tender crispness. Off heat, you must continue to tend them, stirring as they cool. Now you have breadcrumbs to please an empress. Enough for your spaghetti and for a pasta dish or salad of the future.
I had wonderful rye bread on hand, so I used that. Fiora would have chosen white or semolina bread, and she would have taken time to trim the crusts. But I don’t think she would disapprove of my unorthodox but delicious crumbs.
This is one of my favorite spur-of-the-moment pasta dishes, made with ingredients I almost always have on hand.
- Sea salt
- 8 ounces spaghetti or linguine
- 2 garlic cloves
- 6 large anchovy fillets
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Hot red pepper flakes
- 2 cups baby arugula or baby kale if large, cut in ribbons
- ½ cup freshly made, toasted breadcrumbs (recipe follows)
- Several grape tomatoes optional
Fill a large saucepan two-thirds full of cold water. Bring to a boil. Pour in a small handful of salt. Add spaghetti, pressing with a wooden spoon to submerge it. Stir several times as the water returns to a boil. Cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut garlic cloves in thin slivers. Reserving 2 anchovy fillets, cut the remaining 4 in three pieces.
Pour olive oil in a small skillet. Over low heat, gently cook garlic until it begins to color but does not brown.
Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. Return pasta to saucepan. Over low heat, stir in anchovies and garlic with oil. Season to taste with sea salt (you may not need any) and hot red pepper. Stir in arugula and heat just until slightly wilted, adding pasta water if needed for a saucy consistency.
Garnish each serving with breadcrumbs, a whole anchovy and, if using, grape tomatoes.
- 2 or 3 slices firm white, semolina, rye or other whole-grain bread
- 1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil see Note
Tear or slice the bread into several pieces, placing them in a food processor bowl. Process until reduced to coarse crumbs (makes about 2 cups).
Smear the bottom of a medium-sized skillet with olive oil. Place the breadcrumbs in the pan and turn the heat to medium high. Heat the crumbs, stirring constantly (don’t even think about walking away!). Over the course of about 5 minutes, the crumbs will begin to change color. Continue stirring until they are golden brown and crisp (some of the crumbs will be browner than others, and that’s okay). If the crumbs start to burn, reduce the heat or temporarily remove the skillet from the heat.
Remove the skillet from the heat and continue stirring for about half a minute, as the crumbs cool.
Note: Any toasted breadcrumbs not used immediately can be cooled and held at room temperature for a couple of days, or frozen indefinitely.