My favorite Spaghetti (at the moment...)
Spaghetti with toasted bread crumbs, lemon juice, garlic and anchovies. Mmm. This is an excellent example of the Italian cucina povere, the poor mans kitchen. The Italians - and with them many other nationalities around the Med - are experts in making life very rich indeed with just a few ingredients that almost everybody can afford.
The recipe in itself is an old time classic. I got reintroduced to it in one of Jamies early cookbooks. I changed his recipe a little bit (regarding the garlic - use whole unpeeled cloves - and the addition of some butter) but thank Jamie for the inspiration!
8-12 unpeeled cloves of garlic (don't worry; after the slow cooking they don't make your breath smell, or hardly so)
good quality olive oil
8 anchovy fillets from a tin or jar
(not so) old bread, best use Italian (ciabatta), french or another whitish hard bread
spaghetti; best use the flat type called Tallarines
a heaped teaspoon of dried chili flakes or one fresh deseeded (!) chili pepper cut in little rings
juice of one lemon
fresh thyme and/or rosemary (you can use dried herbs as well or even a mix of herbs de Provence)
a little knob of butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh parsley for garnishing (optional)
Start with preparing the garlic. Loosen the cloves from the bulb while leaving their skin on. The reason why you shouldn't peel them is that peeled and cut garlic burns very quickly when you fry it. Burned garlic, even if just slightly brownish, will give your dish a very dominant bitter taste and thus ruin everything. On the other hand, unpeeled garlic cloves will soften in their (protective) skin turning in an almost sweet garlic puree. You can also accomplish this putting garlic cloves (or a whole bulb of garlic for that matter) in an oven for some 30 minutes.
Next put a generous amount of olive oil (about 6 spoonfuls) in a frying pan and preheat this on a medium flame. Make sure the oil doesn't get too hot, meaning doesn't start to produce black smoke (if it does, start over). Add the garlic and let them fry very slowly for at least (!) 10 minutes.
In the meantime crumble your bread into little bits (the size of dice or even a bit bigger) until you have about one heaped plateful. After the 10 minutes (or so) add this to our oil and garlic mix, add some extra oil and some thyme and/or rosemary twigs (or dried herbs) and let the breadcrumbs get crisp. This way, you get what Italians call Pangritata. Add some salt (not too much) and freshly ground pepper and a bit of the chili flakes (or fresh chili). Keep stirring now and again and add extra olive oil when needed - this is not a light dish. In the end you should get some nice golden colored breadcrumbs. After frying, you can let them soak a bit on kitchen paper to get rid of some excess oil.
Meanwhile I hope you have put on a big pan with water for the spaghetti! Is it boiling? Good. Now add your spaghetti and prepare them like you always do. Meaning: make sure there's plenty of water in the pan and stick to the times given for pasta al dente . This means pasta á teeth, signifying that there should still be a little bite to the pasta after cooking. Some Northern Europeans cook their pasta porridge-like soft and that's blasphemy. The Italians say you can check your pasta by trowing a few spaghetti's at the wall. If they stick, they are ready; if they fall, then they're not ready yet. But the problem is that overcooked spaghetti also sticks. The trick just functions with Italians who don't even know how to over-boil.
Anyway, while the pasta is boiling prepare your 'sauce'. If you want you can use the same frying pan as for the breadcrumbs, just wipe it clean with some kitchen paper. Then pour in another big gulp of olive oil and put the pan on a medium flame. Next, add your anchovies and let them melt away. Subsequently add the lemon juice. When all well mixed, add a bit of butter, stir and add some more herbs and chili flakes if you want (make sure you know what you are working with. Don't be over generous when you know your chili is very spicy. The dish should not turn out really hot). Last time I made this dish I also added some grated lemon peel at this stage, but that's optional.
Leave the mix a few minutes on a very low flame while you drain the pasta in a colander. Then add the pasta to the frying pan with your lemon-anchovies sauce. Stir well and add most of the bread crumbs and garlic and stir again. Finally serve your pasta on (ideally) pre-heated plates, top them up with the remaining Pangritata breadcrumbs and maybe some fresh parsley.
Serve straight away and enjoy!
PS I also published this recipe (in two versions: Castellano and English) on www.cantinamarinacatering.blogspot.com
Best way to test pasta, taste it. Also I learned Italian chefs taste the cooking water, to see if its salty enough, before putting pasta in it. Pangritata breadcrumbs , are a great finishing touch, great post.