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Sicilian-style spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs

Sicilian-Style Spaghetti with Anchovies and Breadcrumbs (Spaghetti con Acciughe e Mollica)

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  • Author: Julie A. Cockburn
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x


Flavorful and satisfying, this pasta has a hint of umami from anchovies and a bright, citrusy kick from a squeeze of lemon. The toasted breadcrumbs on top are the perfect finishing touch. The best part is that most of the ingredients are pantry staples that you probably already have on hand, so it’s really easy to throw together.


Units Scale
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2.5 ounces (about 3/4 cups coarsely ground) breadcrumbs (either homemade or panko. See notes)
  • 1 tablespoon salt – kosher or sea salt are both good options (see notes)
  • 8 ounces long pasta noodles, such as spaghetti or bucatini
  • 4 anchovy filets
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for garnish
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 ounce of parsley, minced (about 1/2 cup minced parsley) (see notes)


  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. While the water comes to a boil, heat 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) of the olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the breadcrumbs and stir to make sure they are evenly coated in oil. Cook, stirring frequently, until the crumbs are golden brown and crispy. Keep a close eye on them! They can quickly go from golden brown to black and burned. If you are using homemade breadcrumbs, especially watch the smaller crumbs as they will tend to burn fastest. When the breadcrumbs are toasted, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Allow the skillet to cool slightly and wipe away any remaining breadcrumbs.
  3. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt, along with the pasta, and cook, stirring often, until very al dente – about 3 minutes less than the package instructions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
  4. Meanwhile, place the wiped-out skillet over medium-low heat. Add the remaining 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) of olive oil along with the anchovies, sliced garlic, most of the lemon zest (reserve a bit for garnish), and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring frequently to break up the anchovies, until the garlic is soft, but not browned. If the garlic starts to brown, remove from the heat.
  5. Carefully add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water to the anchovy and garlic sauce. Be aware that it may sputter. Place over medium heat.
  6. Add the very al dente pasta to the sauce, along with a squeeze of lemon juice and most of the parsley (reserve a bit for garnish). Cook, tossing or stirring with tongs, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is cooked to your liking – just a couple of minutes. Add additional pasta cooking water if everything gets too dry before the pasta is finished, or the pasta starts to stick to the bottom.
  7. Give the pasta a taste and add additional salt, lemon juice, or crushed red pepper flakes if you like. Transfer to a serving dish and top generously with toasted breadcrumbs, reserving some of the breadcrumbs for passing at the table. Garnish with the reserved lemon zest and parsley, and another pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. 
  8. Enjoy this dish immediately while the breadcrumbs are still crispy. Yumm!


  • 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.
  • If you enjoy these quick-cooking pasta dishes that are loaded with flavor, you’ll love this recipe for Pasta Puttanesca – a bold and savory Italian pasta dish that comes together in a jiffy using mostly pantry items.
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: Italian
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