Alchemy: Bucatini with Garlic, Anchovy, and Oil

bucatini aglio al olio

My 7th grade science teacher had a knack for analogies. To explain the difference between a compound and a mixture, he made brownies.  Brownies represented a compound; the ingredients, after the baking process, become indistinguishable, and impossible to separate.  Flour, sugar, cocoa powder, butter and eggs transform into this treat that is all of the ingredients but none of them.

In a sort of alchemy, even the simplest ingredients can become something wonderful with a little heat, a little attention. You may think you hate anchovies.  I get it. Those slimy little filets are not my cup of tea either.  But when anchovy paste cooks down in a full-bodied olive oil, it becomes a nutty, savory sauce.  The anchovy-haters in your house will have no idea what they are eating, they will just know they love it. 

The fragrant anchovy and garlic mixture that coats this pasta will linger in the air, it will make your kitchen smell like the North End of Boston.  It’s a smell I’m going to miss.  Every night, on my way home from work, all of the prep cooks are in their Hanover Street kitchens sauteing and chopping and the smell of garlic fills the air.  My mouth waters, and I’m hungry the minute I walk in the door of the apartment.  Maybe this move will be good for my waistline.

The last time we moved, I scrounged up this Bacon Pepper Pasta with the crumbs from the cupboards. This pasta dish is similar in its simplicity. Just a few ingredients, those that linger in the fridge when you haven’t managed to get to the store in a while. You can use linguine or spaghetti if you don’t have bucatini, but I love the toothsome bite of the hollow noodles.  And I love that they are so difficult to twirl, so slurpy and messy to eat.

Please forgive me if I don’t manage to post in the next week or two.  It might take me that long to find my knives and roasting pans in this mess of boxes.

Bucatini with Garlic, Anchovy, and Oil

Serves 6

1 lb bucatini (or spaghetti)

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons sliced garlic

2 tablespoons anchovy paste

pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until just al dente.  Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.

Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, heat the oil in a large saute pan.  Add the garlic and anchovy paste and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to brown.  Add the pepper flakes if using. Add in the pasta, reserved water, and cheese and toss well to combine, cooking another minute or so.  Add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with additional cheese at the table.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 7:21 pm  Comments (29)  
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29 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like how your teacher explained the difference between mixture and compound. :-))
    Your bucatini looks so yummy!

  2. Delicious pasta and how clever of your teacher to use pastry to make a point!

  3. I totally forgot that science lesson, and I never would have known the difference. Now I’ll never forget it – your teacher was brilliant.

    As is this recipe! So simple! Can’t wait to try it.

  4. I love your teacher’s analogy. I’m going to have to tuck that one away for future use. And I LOVE this recipe. I absolutely adore anchovies. Thanks!

  5. I adore simple pasta dishes & I do get a wee thrill hiding anchovies in food for all those haters 🙂 Happy moving!

  6. I feel the love for the anchovies here! And I love the simplicity of the dish as well as the complexity of the different flavors. Go Alchemy! I should just be careful not to create a homunculus.

  7. Oh this looks delightful and I realized recently that I actually do like anchovies. Yum!

  8. I’m not an anchovy hater–I really like the flavor! I can almost smell this cooking, and it’s making me hungry. Hope your move goes well!

  9. Oh goodness – moving is such an adventure and such a gong show of messes! 🙂 I love the simplicity of this dish, Katie. 🙂 I want this on my next rainy evening at home.

  10. Anchovies really are quite magical things. On their own, they’re kind of weird and kind of gross..but melted into a pasta sauce…delicious!

  11. Katie, this is a dish after my own heart. Bucatini are among my favorite types of pasta and, I’m not afraid to admit, I love anchovies. They just add that extra oomph to so many dishes.

  12. Best of luck with the move! What a lovely pasta dish and as luck would have it for me – I am getting more and more comfortable with the idea of anchovies. Woo hoo!

  13. I love anchovies as long as I can’t see them. 🙂 This pasta looks delicious! Good luck with unpacking.

  14. I am ALL about the beauty of simple ingredients. And I love the word Alchemy, and anchovies so this is definitely a dish with my name on it 🙂 Great finding you in this WWW.

  15. Oh wow look at that! These rock solid flavors in the pasta is all it needs. Fantastic!

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  16. I love this, I used to never touch anchovies because I thought they would taste like gym socks, but they melt like butter- so creamy, indeed alchemy. I need to make this soon.

  17. I really loved your post and how you explained the alchemy of flavors. You really captured the North End of Boston too and the wonderful smells! I hope your move goes well. Great post and great pasta!

  18. I hate whole anchovies too but I can handle anchovy paste in moderation in a recipe like this. It sounds like delightful alchemy, indeed!

  19. I am not an anchovy hater at all, but I have never tried cooking down anchovies in oil. I keep reading about it, though AND I have a tube of anchovy paste…seems like kizmet. I am going to have to make this soon.

  20. This looks so yummy. Not sure if I’ve had anything like this. Also, great memory of 7th grade! 🙂

  21. I just adore anchovies in pasta. MMMM!

  22. This looks like a fabulous pasta dish! Great flavors :o)

  23. What a wonderfully simple and flavorful pasta! Perfect for those nights you don’t have the time/energy to cook anything complicated :).

  24. Gorgeous flavours, I’m loving this!

  25. I love creative teachers, they make such an impact..great pasta dish!! perfect for our lenten meals


  26. This looks beautiful! I love anchovies so I will definitely love this! What an amazing science teacher you had, bringing brownies in and justifying it scientifically. I like that 😉
    Heidi xo

  27. Don’t you love remembering things teachers taught you from a long time ago?? Great simple pasta. Love your blog…would be great if you could check mine out too 🙂

  28. This is one of my favorite, favorite recipes. The other day I added to it with an addition of another fave recipe. The result?

    Bucatini Pasta with Garlic, Anchovy, and Olive Oil tossed with Radish Bulbs and Greens sautéed with Green Garlic and Chives and finished with a Fried Egg

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • This variation looks amazing! I especially adore the idea of topping the pasta with a fried egg. And since I have tons of radishes growing in my garden, I will have to try tossing them into the pasta next time!

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