Monday, May 05, 2008

This Pasta Will Make You Praise the Lord

In 2001, my sister and her family rented a house for a month on Fire Island. While I was visiting, her mother-in-law made this incredible pasta dish with anchovy sauce that was so simple and yet so mind-bogglingly delicious, I've thought about it ever since.

A few months ago I attempted this dish and well, it was pretty bad. Barely edible, in fact. But I was not deterred--knowing that the basic ingredients wouldn't change: olive oil, garlic, anchovies, pasta. So it had to be a matter of proportions or maybe some tweaking to make it as delish as I remembered.

Tonight's version was much better, actually fantastic and I went back for second and third helpings and now my pants feel too tight. Of course I snarfed down my food before remembering to take a picture so I had to throw another heap on the now dirty plate so you could see it. I guess I could have wiped the plate off but oy, that's too high mai for me. Another reason I can never be a food blogger.

So here's what I did:

Put a big pot of water on to boil. The key to successful pasta cooking in my humble 1/4 Italian opinion, is plenty of water for the pasta to swim in. Salt in the water, oil and rinsing are all equally unnecessary.

In a large saute pan, saute two cloves of finely chopped garlic in maybe 1/4 c olive oil on low heat. I also added half a finely chopped shallot but it's just because it was sitting in my fridge. It would be fine without. Move that around a bit. Heat should be low here, no browning.

To this, add a two ounce can of anchovy fillets in oil--just dump it all in. I did not drain or rinse but I saw some recipes that said you should. I'm sure there's a difference with anchovies packed in salt water, but this is what my store had. I also bought a tube of anchovy paste that day, which I bet would also work but it must have fallen into the deep recesses of my cupboard because I haven't seen it since I put it away. I'll look into that someday and get back to you.

As they sit on the heat, you'll see the anchovy fillets start to disintegrate. They don't need much help, just push them around the hot oil and they'll break down. There are very fine bones in the fillets, which you do not need to take out.

Okay, this is optional but I think it was a nice addition: a handful of finely chopped toasted almonds. I had the peeled slivered kind, then put them on the toaster oven baking tray on 350 until golden brown. I dumped them onto a cutting board to cool, then chopped them pretty fine. They were just sitting in my fridge and the texture seemed to be the right thing. I was thinking of how nuts in pesto add a nice crunch to the smooth sauce and I wanted that effect.

By now your water is probably boiling and ready for pasta. You want something long, thin and smooth. Last time I used farfalle and it was a bad mistake. The super salty sauce pooled in the ridges and pockets of the pasta, creating a somewhat unpleasantly salty experience. This time I used about 1/3 pound of spaghetti because that's what I had but capellini (angel hair) is the way to go here, but if you had fettucine that would work, too. Cook it until al dente-you're going to finish it in the saucepan.

Sauce now should be relatively smooth--bust up any remaining chunks of fish. Turn the heat off, then add the chopped nuts if you used them. Then taste this--dear God, it's salty, right? Don't worry--now add juice of up to 1 lemon. Start with a quarter and taste as you go. Stop when it tastes right to you. For me, it was 1/2 lemon.

Did you know the key to juicing a lemon is to roll it over the counter, pushing down hard with the palm of your hand as you roll before you cut it open? I can't remember who taught me this but THANK YOU! This, along with "righty tighty, lefty loosey" are probably two of the most valuable things I've learned in my life.

When the sauce tastes good--salty but not unbearably so, dump the drained pasta into the sauce and really mix it up, coating each strand of pasta well. Try to avoid clumps of sauce and spots of dry pasta--they both suck.

That's it! Feel free to drizzle a bit more olive oil if it seems a bit dry. If you're a person that likes your pasta to swim in sauce, this may seem odd to you, but trust in the process--the pasta is sauced.

Reasons this dish is so great:
1. Delicious
2. Cheap
3. Makes use of small, oily fish that we're being encouraged to consume since large fish like tuna are full of pollutants and also being overfished.

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