Have you tried canned seafood yet? It seems to be all the rage lately. I experienced the trend firsthand while visiting Portugal recently. Lisbon and Porto, in particular, have a bunch of whimsical shops and a few cool restaurants dedicated solely to canned seafood, which they call “conservas”. (Read more about Portuguese canned fish here.) It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re into that sort of thing – which I am!
Since returning home, I’ve been experimenting with various types of canned seafood and searching for recipes that highlight my favorite varieties such as sardines, anchovies, and tuna. During my research, I stumbled upon a tasty anchovy dish that I’ve actually been making for years but didn’t know where it originated from – spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs, or Spaghetti con acciughe e mollica in Italian. It turns out this combination of pasta and anchovies, enhanced with a touch of lemon, a hint of red pepper, and a few cloves of garlic, all topped with a generous helping of crunchy breadcrumbs, is a classic dish from Southern Italy, particularly Sicily.
The recipe is really easy to make, and comes together in a jiffy – you can have dinner on the table in about 30 minutes from start to finish. It has been a favorite in my house for years on those nights when I don’t have a lot of time, but I want something satisfying and full of flavor. The best part is that most of the ingredients are pantry staples that I usually have on hand, so it’s really easy to throw together.
If you’re looking for an easy, super flavorful way to use that lone can of anchovies you’ve been storing in your cupboard, definitely give this recipe a go. Don’t be surprised if it quickly becomes a regular menu item in your home, too.
The roots of spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs – Pasta ca’ Muddica Atturrata
Pasta ca’ muddica atturrata means pasta with toasted breadcrumbs, and is the foundation for our Spaghetti con acciughe e mollica recipe. It is a simple, “poor man’s” meal of pasta, topped with breadcrumbs that have been toasted in olive oil. According to my research, in Sicily, toasted breadcrumbs are a traditional, inexpensive substitute for grated cheese. Plus, it’s a good way to use up day-old bread!
BTW – I don’t speak Italian, so I can’t tell you the subtle differences between “mollica” and “muddica”, but my understanding is they mean pretty much the same thing. If you speak Italian, I would love to know your insights!
As with many classic dishes, there are a lot of variations on the simple original. Like my version, some have anchovy, lemon, garlic, and parsley. Some add cheese, some add tomato and onion… you get the idea! It’s a flexible dish that can be customized to your taste and what you’ve got on hand.
Does Spaghetti con Acciughe e Mollica taste fishy?
Believe it or not, no, this pasta dish – featuring anchovies – doesn’t taste fishy. The anchovies melt into the sauce, creating a wonderful umami flavor. Of course, if you really love the flavor of anchovies, you can add more – which would likely tip the dish from deliciously savory to fabulously fishy!
What type of pasta should I use?
Since this dish is so simple, the quality of the ingredients makes a big difference. Try to use good quality, Italian pasta – bronze-cut or bronze-die if you can get it. A long pasta, such as spaghetti or bucatini, is traditional, but feel free to use whatever shape you enjoy.
What type of anchovies should I use?
Again, the quality of the ingredients makes a difference. However, keeping in mind that the anchovies will disappear into the sauce, there is no need to purchase the most expensive anchovies available. Simply look for anchovy filets packed in olive oil – the only ingredients should be anchovies, olive oil, and salt.
Should I rinse the anchovies before I use them?
Nope, there is no need. We want all of that salty, briny umami-ness to add yummy flavor to our pasta dish.
What type of breadcrumbs should I use?
If you’ve got some day or two old bread, homemade breadcrumbs are your best choice. Just cut your bread into pieces, then run the pieces through the food processor until they reach a coarse crumb. Don’t process it to a really fine texture – a rough, uneven crumb is perfect.
If you don’t want to make your breadcrumbs from scratch, panko breadcrumbs are a fine second choice.
- To save time, prep your veggies while the water comes to a boil.
- The pasta cooking water is an important ingredient in this recipe, so it’s best to get the correct ratio of salt to water. For every 4 quarts of cooking water, add 1 tablespoon of salt.
- Homemade breadcrumbs are best in this recipe. Cut bread that is a day or two old into small chunks, then run through a food processor until it reaches a coarse crumb. It doesn’t need to be perfectly even. It actually enhances the rustic feel of the dish if some of the bread pieces are larger than others. If you would rather not make your own, panko breadcrumbs are a fine substitute.
- Don’t bother mincing the parsley super fine. Just like with the breadcrumbs, a few uneven pieces add to the rustic feel.
- The easiest way to grate lemon zest is with a microplane grater. Simply run the grater all around the outside of the lemon and you’ll end up with a lovely little pile of perfectly grated zest.