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Pasta With Anchovy Sauce

by . Featured in FEAST
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Introduction

I have a feeling that this is another recipe with a del Conte derivation, although I have cooked it so often over the years, I can't now remember what I've added to it and when. I know that people feel very strongly about anchovies, but this is guaranteed - as much as one can guarantee anything - to overcome the most squealing of prejudices. Do not think of that salty dried-up thing that curls up and dies on top of cheap takeaway pizzas: the anchovies here are mellow and, with the soft-cooked onions, have a savoury but honeyed intensity - not strong, just deep-toned and harmonious. To be on the safe side, you could just serve this as 'pasta in Venetian sauce', failing to mention the anchovy element.

I have a feeling that this is another recipe with a del Conte derivation, although I have cooked it so often over the years, I can't now remember what I've added to it and when. I know that people feel very strongly about anchovies, but this is guaranteed - as much as one can guarantee anything - to overcome the most squealing of prejudices. Do not think of that salty dried-up thing that curls up and dies on top of cheap takeaway pizzas: the anchovies here are mellow and, with the soft-cooked onions, have a savoury but honeyed intensity - not strong, just deep-toned and harmonious. To be on the safe side, you could just serve this as 'pasta in Venetian sauce', failing to mention the anchovy element.

Pasta With Anchovy Sauce
Photo by James Merrell

Ingredients

Serves: 8

Metric Cups
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon soft light brown sugar
  • 12 anchovies (or 1 x 60g / 2oz can in olive oil)
  • 15 grams butter
  • tiniest pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 125 millilitres full fat milk
  • 500 grams linguine (bigoli, bucatini, perciatelli or other robust pasta)
  • 1 bunch freshly chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon soft light brown sugar
  • 12 anchovies (or 1 x 60g / 2oz can in olive oil)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • tiniest pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 pound linguine (bigoli, bucatini, perciatelli or other robust pasta)
  • 1 bunch freshly chopped fresh italian parsley

Method

  1. Finely chop the onions and garlic. To be honest, I'd do this in the processor every time. It's not just that it's easier, but that it makes the onion meld into the sauce so well later.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and cook the very finely chopped onion and garlic over a low heat until you have a soft, golden mush - about 10 minutes. Add the brown sugar (though white is fine too), stir it in and let the onion mixture cook for another minute or so.
  3. Remove the anchovies from the tin, and chop them very finely; I use my mezzaluna for this. Add them to the onion mush, stirring until they begin to "melt", then stir in the butter and the pinch of ground cloves, followed by a tablespoonful of water and when all is combined, gradually stir in the milk. When this has come together as a puree, take the pan off the heat.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in abundant salted water according to the packet instructions, removing a ladleful of cooking liquid just before you drain it.
  5. Tip the drained pasta into the anchovy and onion sauce and add the reserved cooking water to help lubricate the pasta. You may not need all of the water, so pour in gradually. Add some oil from the anchovy tin if you need it too. And, of course, if the pan isn't big enough to take all the pasta, just put it back into the pan it was cooked in and pour the sauce over the top.
  6. Sprinkle over most of the parsley, just roughly chopped, thoroughly turning the pasta in the pan to coat each strand in the anchovy sauce. Remove to a warm bowl, sprinkle over the remaining parsley and take to the table.
  1. Finely chop the onions and garlic. To be honest, I'd do this in the processor every time. It's not just that it's easier, but that it makes the onion meld into the sauce so well later.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and cook the very finely chopped onion and garlic over a low heat until you have a soft, golden mush - about 10 minutes. Add the brown sugar (though white is fine too), stir it in and let the onion mixture cook for another minute or so.
  3. Remove the anchovies from the tin, and chop them very finely; I use my mezzaluna for this. Add them to the onion mush, stirring until they begin to "melt", then stir in the butter and the pinch of ground cloves, followed by a tablespoonful of water and when all is combined, gradually stir in the milk. When this has come together as a puree, take the pan off the heat.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in abundant salted water according to the packet instructions, removing a ladleful of cooking liquid just before you drain it.
  5. Tip the drained pasta into the anchovy and onion sauce and add the reserved cooking water to help lubricate the pasta. You may not need all of the water, so pour in gradually. Add some oil from the anchovy tin if you need it too. And, of course, if the pan isn't big enough to take all the pasta, just put it back into the pan it was cooked in and pour the sauce over the top.
  6. Sprinkle over most of the parsley, just roughly chopped, thoroughly turning the pasta in the pan to coat each strand in the anchovy sauce. Remove to a warm bowl, sprinkle over the remaining parsley and take to the table.

Additional Information

Another Anna del Conte tip: if you're cooking pasta for a dinner party or any other occasion when you might be surrounded by people and forget to take the pasta off in time, you stand much less chance of overcooking it by following the Agnesi method. Bring your water to the boil, add salt, then tip in the pasta stirring well to make sure it's all in and not clumped together. Once the water's come back to the boil, let the pasta cook for 2 minutes then turn off the heat, cover the pan with a tea-towel (thin one, not the fat-waffled variety) and clamp with a tight-fitting lid. Let the pasta stand like that for as long as the packet tells you to cook it by the normal method. At which time drain it, remembering to remove the ladleful of cooking water before doing so.

Another Anna del Conte tip: if you're cooking pasta for a dinner party or any other occasion when you might be surrounded by people and forget to take the pasta off in time, you stand much less chance of overcooking it by following the Agnesi method. Bring your water to the boil, add salt, then tip in the pasta stirring well to make sure it's all in and not clumped together. Once the water's come back to the boil, let the pasta cook for 2 minutes then turn off the heat, cover the pan with a tea-towel (thin one, not the fat-waffled variety) and clamp with a tight-fitting lid. Let the pasta stand like that for as long as the packet tells you to cook it by the normal method. At which time drain it, remembering to remove the ladleful of cooking water before doing so.

Tell us what you think

What 6 Others have said

  • I used this recipe last week and tonight I tried it again with my own twist remove the sugar completely and add another 50ml of milk (I used koko organic coconut milk too) and add about 750g of spinach this turned out absolutely delightfull

    Posted by Munchi on 17th March 2016
  • Ok. Would make again if I had all the ingredients on hand.

    Posted by ciaranic on 30th April 2013
  • Many thanks for this one. We have heaps of anchovies here in Australia and this is an amazing way to use them. Jean.

    Posted by montyprince on 28th March 2014
  • Excellent dish. Made it as comfort food for our daughter who is studying for her exams. I will definitely cook this again. Cathelijne, The Netherlands

    Posted by Cathelijne on 7th October 2013
  • I made this just the other night. I added some grape tomatoes and mix in the pasta when they began to burst. Simple. Delicious. Satisfying.

    Posted by LadyT_TNT on 23rd August 2012
  • Nice recipe. I boil the onions for 5 minutes (to get rid of the bitternes) then put them in the biff baff boff machine. Particularly good recipe for people not particularly keen on anchovies

    Posted by herbeano on 20th May 2011
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