Comfort Food, Italian Style

On a cool, rainy day when the evenings are beginning to close in, what could be more comforting than a simple, quickly prepared pasta dish?

This is one of our family standards – spaghetti flavored with anchovy infused olive oil, seasoned with fresh squeezed lemon juice and spiked with a few extra hot dried red chillies known as peperoncini in Italy. Add a bit of Parmesan to round it out, pair the dish with a sliced tomato salad drizzled with aged balsamic, and you have a feast.

Simple oil-infused pasta dishes are a mainstay of Italian home cooking – take the classic Abruzzo dish, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio – spaghetti with garlic and oil – and the perpetually popular pasta with pesto. Because there are so few ingredients in these oil based pastas, the key to spectacular results is in quality ingredients and the particular method of cooking.

A specially designed pasta pot, though not essential, is a very good thing to have. These pots are two tiered with a pierced inner pot, like a colander, nesting in the outer one. This design allows the boiling water to flow in and around the pasta, incidentally preventing it from sticking to the bottom.  It also allows you to lift out the cooked pasta without having to strain it in a colander in the sink, reserving all that starch-rich cooking water. I normally don’t wax eloquent over kitchen pots and pans…well, okay, if I’m being honest, sometimes I do have a fondness for certain exceptional kitchen tools. My pasta pot is one of them.


Lemon & Anchovy Spaghetti

serves 4

  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 2 Tablespoons sea salt
  • 1/4 cup Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 anchovy fillets, packed in oil
  • 3 crushed peperoncini chillies (or 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes if you cannot get these hot little dried Italian chillies)
  • 1 lemon
  • Freshly grated black pepper

Put water and salt into a pasta pot (or stockpot if you don’t have one). I realize this is a lot of salt, but the spaghetti needs to cook in salted water; it is the only time you will need to add salt to the recipe.

Bring the water to a rolling boil. Add spaghetti and cook for one minute less than your packet indicates. I usually find this ensures that the spaghetti is at the al dente stage.

While the spaghetti is cooking, put the oil in a sauté pan and heat on medium high heat. Add the anchovy fillets, carefully mashing them with the back of a wooden spoon as they heat in the oil. As soon as the fillets have dissolved, turn the heat off and add the crushed peperoncini. The chillies can easily burn if they are left on the heat.

Juice your lemon and grate your Parmesan (do not use pre-grated or dried Parmesan). Set these aside.

When your spaghetti is finished cooking, turn off heat.

Turn heat back on to medium low under the sauté pan, strain the spaghetti, reserving the cooking water. Add the spaghetti, without rinsing, directly to the anchovy oil. Turn with your wooden spoon until the oil has coated the spaghetti. Pour on 1/2 cup of the cooking water, stirring until the liquid has be reduced and is almost absorbed.

Finish by pouring on the lemon juice, mix with a turn or two. Turn off heat and quickly add the grated cheese, turning it over and through the spaghetti, allowing it to melt. Put into heated serving bowl and grate with black pepper.

Note: pasta cooking water can be “re-purposed” to thicken soups, much like my grandmother used the water in which she boiled potatoes. Remember, it is quite salty, so adjust your soup recipe accordingly.

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