Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I'm still not sure how some dishes come together. There are some weeks filled with planning, trips to the farmers market and endless stops at the spice market. Food for the whole week is planned and my fridge is covered with layer upon layer of post-its and recipe ideas that I'll be testing Monday through Friday, trying to figure out exactly what to do to make them perfect. Other meals come about from surveying what I have in the fridge and flipping through a cookbook for inspiration (thanks for doing the real work Martha!). But after weeks of effort and meticulous meal planning, sometimes all I want to do to pull dinner together is throw a few things in a pot and pray that they work.
Last night's meal came together exactly in that way. I'd been craving a few truly random ingredients (anchovies, spaghetti, and buttered breadcrumbs), and wondered aloud if perhaps I could mold these cravings into something tasty and easy that might help me clean out my fridge and pantry before a big supermarket shopping trip later in the week. So, after some research I found a few recipes that contained such ingredients, including a baked pasta and one topped with buttered breadcrumbs. Then I noticed an olive-caper-anchovies sauce and thought that perhaps I could combine some of those ingredients with the breadcrumbs to make a crunchy and super simple sauce. I didn't have any olives, but I always have capers and anchovies in my fridge, so I decided to take a tip from another recipe and smash the anchovies and capers in my mortar and pestle. This created a paste that I could dissolve in some hot olive oil with shallots and garlic.
I decided to take all of those ingredients and create an anchovy-caper breadcrumb that I could quickly toss with some olive oil coated spaghetti. I added some red pepper flake for a little heat, which went really well with the anchovies, which mellow out when cooked and dissolved in the olive oil. The capers gave the crumble and nice tartness to cut through the slight sweetness of the other ingredients. It didn't even need any salt because of the salinity of all the other ingredients. It all came together super fast, in fact it was done before the pasta was done cooking. It satisfied all of my cravings and tasted great. Not to mention, it gave me another go-to lazy dinner dish for those days when I haven't planned anything at all but still want something tasty. And don't fear the anchovies, their flavor is greatly transformed, so much so that you wouldn't even identify them from the flavor of the final dish. Here's the final recipe.
Spaghetti with Anchovy-Caper Breadcrumbs
1/2 package dried spaghetti (enough for 2 people)
1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp drained anchovies (that's 3/4 of the contents of a 2 oz anchovy tin)
1 medium shallot (or small onion), diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flake
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
extra virgin olive oil
1. Cook pasta according to package directions in salted, boiling water. Meanwhile, mash anchovies and capers in a mortar and pestle (or on a plate with a fork) and set aside.
2. In a non-stick skillet, cook shallot and garlic in olive oil until soft. Mash with a fork or potato masher, then lower the heat and add the red pepper flakes along with anchovy-caper mixture, stirring often until incorporated, about 3 minutes.
3. Add breadcrumbs and increase heat to medium. Toss mixture often until breadcrumbs are toasted and browned. Add drained pasta and drizzle with more olive oil. Toss to coat and serve. Enjoy!