Following a recipe can sometimes feel like you’re on a mad voyage with a crazed captain determined to set your kitchen ablaze in a quest to capture that ephemeral, culinary white whale.
“Are you out of your mind?” I wanted to yell at Melissa Clark, whose Pasta with Caramelized Peppers and Anchovies inspired this particular dinner. “Put the anchovies in the hot oil first? Before the peppers?! And use a whole jar?” The spatter coated not just the whole pan, but the tea kettle next to it and my entire stove top. I was ready to jump overboard. But the resulting dinner had Craig aflutter, moaning “Oh my God” upon taking the first bite. As a person who makes pasta on a biweekly basis (in the two-times-a-week sense), this may be the most potently flavorful pasta I’ve ever drummed up in my kitchen.
What makes it so potent and flavorful?
As mentioned: you start by adding 8 to 10 anchovies to a pan of hot oil. No, that picture above wasn’t painted by Georges Seurat; that’s the spatter I was talking about. I suppose I could’ve had the heat lower and then this would’ve been a calmer experience, but I like to be bold when following a bold recipe.
Once the anchovies melt, you add whole cloves of garlic and then sliced red peppers. You sauté the peppers until golden and the fond at the bottom of the pan gets darker; Melissa Clark (who, I should mention here, was on my podcast Lunch Therapy last year!) also involves sprigs of rosemary, but my poor heart can only take so much.
When the pan gets so dark it’s almost on the edge of burning, you deglaze with white wine (I used a Gruner). Then you add butter because, why not?
Here’s where Melissa and I part ways. She goes in a direction that involves ricotta, scallions, and mint; rendering an almost summery concoction. I decided to double down on the umami and, after stirring in the pasta, I added about 1/2 a cup of Parmesan, plus some parsley for color.
The sea was angry that day, my friends, and that angry sea made its way into our dinner.
The anchovies gave this whole thing such a briny, funky undercurrent (heh) and then the garlic and the red chili flakes (did I mention those?) and the sweet peppers and the wine and the butter… can you even imagine? I adjusted at the very end with white Balsamic, because I didn’t have lemon juice, and that rounded everything out nicely.
I’m a jaded old soul when it comes to pasta — it’s hard to find something truly new and exciting, especially when using pantry ingredients (which is why I make this all the time) — but putting myself into Melissa Clark’s hands, I feel like I’ve been on a grand adventure and have the treasure to prove it.
Oh captain, my captain, I’ll never doubt you again.
Cavatappi with Anchovies, Garlic, and Red Peppers
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 8 to 10 anchovies in oil
- 5 to 6 cloves of smashed garlic
- Pinch red chili flakes
- 2 red peppers, sliced
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 Tbs butter
- 1 pound cavatappi (or any other small pasta that you like)
- 1 Tbs Freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste) or white Balsamic
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (plus more for sprinkling)
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season it well with salt (it should taste like a flavorful broth).
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the anchovies and step back: they'll splatter! Cautiously stir around with a wooden spoon and then add the garlic, allowing the garlic to color a bit, and finally the red peppers with a pinch of salt.
- Cook all together, allowing the peppers to color, but monitoring the color at the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat a bit if necessary. When the bottom of the pan is a dark color, and the peppers have taken on color themselves, add the white wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits. Add the butter and allow the sauce to thicken.
- Drop your pasta in the pasta water and cook one minute less than the package directions say. Lift into the pan with the anchovies, garlic, and peppers and add a ladleful of pasta water. Stir all around on high heat until all of the liquid is absorbed.
- Turn off the heat and stir the lemon juice or white Balsamic (taste to see if it needs more), then stir in the Parmesan and parsley. Serve with more Parmesan and parsley sprinkled on top.
Heaven and Hell Cauliflower Pasta with Garlic and Anchovies (Amateur Gourmet)
Midnight Pasta with Garlic, Anchovy, Capers, and Red Pepper (New York Times)
Anchovy Pasta with Garlic Breadcrumbs (Bon Appetit)
Spaghetti Pangrattato with Crispy Eggs (Smitten Kitchen)