I collect anchovy recipes. It's not really a deliberate act, but an unconscious hoarding. The collection means I'll never want for ways to go through the anchovy tins that sit patiently next to my cans of whole tomatoes and garbanzo beans. It also means that I'll never want for a salty-fishy fix.
When I can't be bothered to browse the collection, I open up a tin, blot the oil from one flat body, positio it atop a saltine cracker, and pop the whole thing in my mouth, overhanging fish ends and all. Please do grimace and wrinkle your nose. The anchovy is a divisive little fish. And I wouldn't perform this particular act in the presence of company, anyway. But the truth is that I don't just collect anchovy recipes. I love anchovy recipes, and I love the foods and drinks that I consider--in some fundamental but unjustifiable way--as the anchovy's kin. Sardines, oil-cured olives, smoked trout, radicchio, gin martinis (dirty, please), stinky cheese, Campari, Pernod, dark chocolate, dandelion greens, the hoppiest beers, and--need I even say so--caviar of any size and color. Meet my favorite food group: the salty, the bitter, the sturdy.
I have been adding anchovies to my pasta sauces for a few years now. Not just puttanesca, but tomato-less pastas featuring broccoli rabe, radicchio, or arugula livened up with with a heavy dose of red pepper flakes, and those anchovies. These pasta dishes don't apologize for their salted fish, and neither does the one that graced the cover of Gourmet's April edition. Bucatini with spicy anchovy sauce and dill bread crumbs. Passing up Vogue's dewy Drew Barrymore, I bought the issue for its cover recipe as I searched for something to get me through the flight from Raleigh to Pittsburgh after my dissertation defense.
Let me tell you why I love this recipe. The dill, anchovies, and red pepper flakes--all assertive flavors--somehow melt into a pleasant and mellow pasta sauce. Bread crumbs bring a crunch to each bite of bucatini. But this seems not to be a recipe for everyone. I clicked over to epicurious.com and found a substantial number of dissenters including this one:
"I made this recipe last night, and it prompted me to post a review for the first time. Unfortunately it's because it is so very disgusting!!! I've been cooking for my husband for 10 years, and this was the first and only time he actually would not eat what I made. I don't blame him, I couldn't stomach it either. I even read the other reviews and put in a little extra anchovy and red pepper, and it was still terrible. I rate this recipe One Spoon, to gag myself with. GROSS!"
To each her own. But I would rate this recipe 4 forks, and my husband liked it too. You might, but probably not if you hate anchovies. I don't think I'll be able to do without it.
Bucatini with Anchovy Sauce, and Dill Bread Crumbs
Serves 4. Adapted from Gourmet magazine, April 2008.
Bucatini are thick, hollow noodles that otherwise look like spaghetti. They're particularly nice here because they stand up to the robust flavors in this sauce and are not overwhelmed by the breadcrumbs. Other pastas, especially regular spaghetti, would be fine substitutes.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup chopped dill
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 (2-ounce) can flat anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
1 pound bucatini
1 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
1. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, then cook bread crumbs, stirring constantly, until deep golden and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer bread crumbs to a bowl and toss with dill and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper.
2. Wipe out skillet, then cook shallots with 1/4 teaspoon salt in remaining 1/2 cup oil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until very soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add anchovies and cook, mashing anchovies into shallots, until dissolved.
3. Meanwhile, cook bucatini in a pasta pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta.
4. Stir red-pepper flakes and reserved water into anchovy sauce, then add pasta and toss to combine. Add about half of bread crumbs and toss to coat. Serve sprinkled with remaining bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper.