Pasta cu l’anciovi e a muddìca atturrata. Do you speak Sicilian? I don’t but chef Nino Barbalace does. Today he shares a family recipe: linguine with anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs.
Anchovies, Anchovies, Anchovies! People either love them or hate them. Sicilians usually love them as they are among the most used ingredients in the local cuisine: they are tasty, easy to find, simple to cook, and cheap (at least in the Sicilian fish markets!).
They can be found in many diverse dishes, from appetizers to pasta, to second courses or side dishes, like anchovy paté, marinated fresh anchovies, floured and fried, breaded and baked, or just added when sauteing vegetables to add an umami flavor.
In southern Italy “Pizza Marinara” contains anchovies. I was surprised when I first came to the USA and found out that here “Pizza Marinara” usually doesn’t have anchovies.
Now let’s get back to today’s recipe: linguine with anchovies.
In Sicily there are many different variations of this recipe: with or without tomato sauce, with fresh anchovies or with oil-packed anchovies, melted down in butter or in extra virgin olive oil. Either way they are all delicious and generally very quick to make.
The dish I am proposing today is a family recipe, that I have been eating growing up in Sicily.
The reason why I like it is because it is quick (it takes less than cooking the pasta) and it has a distinctive anchovy flavor. As you will see it is a little more elaborated version of the “aglio olio e peperoncino”, but still very easy to make and in my opinion delicious. You be the judge!
This dish is usually served with the addition of “muddìca atturrata” (toasted breadcrumbs) which lend extra crispiness to the dish.
The “muddìca atturrata” is a basic preparation used in many Sicilian dishes. Grandparents tell it is the “poor man’s cheese”: the rich could afford to finish the dishes with grated cheese, while the poor instead had to settle for crumbs. Is it true? Surely “muddìca atturrata” is found in many traditional Sicilian recipes, and therefore it becomes an essential ingredient for the preparation of several basic dishes, such as: pasta with sardines, pasta with broccoli, sardines “a beccafico”, or simply for some spaghetti sauce dishes as a replacement of grated cheese, but also in many other dishes in which it is necessary to dress, tie the ingredients together, and enhance the overall flavor.
INGREDIENTS (serves 5)
For the sauce
¾ cup of extra virgin olive oil
red chili flakes
2 cloves of garlic – peeled and with a couple of slits
2.5 oz of anchovies in olive oil (roughly chopped)
2 vine tomatoes – diced
1 cup fresh parsley + ¼ cup to garnish (minced)
2 cups of water
1 lb of linguine or fettuccine
1 cup of plain breadcrumbs
a few drops of extra virgin olive oil
In a sauce pan heat the oil and the red chili flakes on medium (I add quite a bit cause I like it spicy, but it is completely up to you) for about 30 seconds until it gets warm. This will help infusing the flavor of the red chili flakes to the base. Add 2 cloves of garlic – just make one or two slits in the garlic and take it out before serving – and let it go for about a minute until light golden (just make sure it doesn’t get too brown). Add the roughly chopped anchovies and stir with a wood spoon until completely melted,. Next incorporate the diced tomatoes (along with their juice and seeds – it’s all good!) and keep stirring for about 1 minute. At this point add the parsley, stir, and let the sauce cook on medium for one more minute until all the ingredients are well blended together. Now pour in the water, stir, and let it cook on medium-high for about 5 minutes. You will know that it is ready when the sauce curdles, quagghia in Sicilian dialect.
While the sauce is bubbling, heat a small skillet, sprinkle the bread crumbs covering the entire bottom of the pan, add a little oil (just a few drops). Maintain the heat low and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the bread crumbs become golden, just a couple of minutes. At this point turn off the heat, put the toasted breadcrumbs aside cool completely before using it (don’t leave the breadcrumbs in the skillet or they will eventually keep toasting and ultimately burn).
Cook linguine al dente saving a cup of the cooking water (I usually take the pasta down about two minutes earlier than the time printed on the box), strain and pour it straight in the sauce pan with the anchovy sauce. Stir it for about a minute on medium heat until the pasta is perfectly coated with the sauce, adding a little of the saved water if it looks too dry. At this point your dish is ready, turn off the heat and add some fresh parsley. It’s time to use the “muddìca atturrata”: you can either add it directly on the pasta in the pan and stir or you can sprinkle some on top of the plated dish. It’s totally up to you. There are no rules! I usually prefer to sprinkle some “muddìca atturrata” on the serving, it looks prettier but mostly because otherwise it would absorb most of the moisture of the sauce making your dish dry.
Nino Barbalace is a Sicilian-born and Boston-adopted personal chef. He grew up in Sicily where he acquired the passion for cooking from his aunt Gianna who taught him the secrets of the kitchen, who passed on to him her true love for cooking and the idea that a dish is not “just a dish,” rather “food for the soul!” After earning a Master Degree and a PhD in History and Conservation of Historic Heritage and working many years in Italy and in the U.S., Nino sought change wishing to work with food. He left the academic life to dedicate himself full time to cooking. After graduating from The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts Nino started his own company Sicilicity willing to bring to his clients’ homes the sweet-sour-spicy-colorful taste of Sicily!