How To Make A Pasta With Anchovies (And Other Stuff): A Guide For The Unafraid

It's pasta time! We'll do a simple pasta preparation, oh, once a month or so, because they're a nice respite from braising a pork shoulder for a month and whisking butter for the entirety of human history, and because pasta is a fun, cheap, quick way to whip up something unreasonably tasty and then wolf it all down in nine seconds of frantic, slavering mania.

Today, we're doing it with anchovies. These little guys have attained a rotten status in the common conception of foodstuffs, thanks to generations of lazy sitcom writers who plugged in the word "anchovy" as a shorthand for "yucky crap that weirdos put on pizza to the disgust of the everyman protagonist," and that sucks, because anchovies are goddamn delicious and utterly inoffensive. Don't give me any side-eye about it. Buy a little tin or jar of anchovy fillets in olive oil; this preparation will use a bunch of them (exactly how many will depend on how big of a chickenhearted weenie you want to be), and if there are any left over afterward, you will absolutely find yourself imagining possible uses for them. We're also going to use cannellini beans, because cannellini beans are also delicious and because it's always a good idea for one's food preparations to alienate as many fussy eaters as possible without including giant fistfuls of barbershop clippings.

OK, enough preamble. Let's get cooking.

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To get started, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and fill a large pot with moderately salted water. In our previous pasta preparation, we talked about the difference between salted water and saltwater and I harangued you to use the latter, because that preparation benefited from the addition of salty pasta water at the end to intensify its flavor. This dish won't need as much help from its pasta water; salting the water is still a good idea, as a way to make the pasta itself more interesting, but this time around, don't aim for pasta water that tastes like high tide off the coast of Halifax. Aim for pasta water that tastes like fresh water with a bunch of salt in it. Upend your big cardboard cylinder of salt over your big pot of water, count to three, and that's enough. Also, in case you hadn't guessed, we're going to boil this water, so go ahead and cover the pot and place it over high heat on your stovetop.

So now you've got some time while your oven and your big pot of water heat up. Take the opportunity to get some other tedious shit out of the way: chopping and opening and organizing and all that mise-en-place-y stuff. Slice two jalapeños into thin discs; if you are a fraidycat (or, um, have a painful stomach ulcer or acid reflux or other medical condition that may be exacerbated by exposure to highly acidic foods), you may remove the seeds to reduce the heat, but, really, don't do that. Mince several big cloves of garlic. Open a can of cannellini beans, dump its contents into a colander, rinse them thoroughly under a cold tap, and set them aside. Open a tin or can or jar of anchovy fillets packed in olive oil.

Also, dump a container of cherry tomatoes into a bowl or a one-gallon freezer bag, sprinkle a tiny amount of olive oil onto them, and toss them until they're more or less evenly coated. You're going to roast these tomatoes, because this enables you to usher them with minimal molestation from their raw state all the way to being cooked and added to your finished product, and also because roasted cherry tomatoes are the precise reason why natural selection endeavored for millennia to produce the taste bud. When they're tossed and coated, spread them on a foil-lined baking pan or cookie sheet.

All set? Good. If it hasn't yet, eventually the water is going to come to a boil and the oven will have finished preheating. When both of these things have happened, drop a pound of bucatini pasta into the water and put the tomatoes in the oven; set a timer for 10 minutes.

Whip out your saucier pan, heat up a tablespoon or so of olive oil in it, and toss in your garlic and jalapeño and cook them over low-medium heat. After a minute or two, they'll heat up and you'll smell them doing so and your nipples will singe holes in your shirt; it's time to add some anchovies along with some of the oil from their container. Now, look. I'm not going to be looming outside your kitchen window with a crossbow while you do this (probably), so you're going to use as many or as few anchovies as you wish. But, please: be brave and use a lot of anchovies this one time. Not one or two of the teeny little blade-of-grass-sized fillets, but, like, 10 or 12 or 15 of them. Half the tin. Hell, more than that. Many. Myriad. A lot.

There's a reason for this, and it is that anchovies taste good and make other things taste better. If that's not persuasive for you because you are a weenie, consider that the idea behind the meal you are making today is to take a pair of fairly bland, but hearty and fulfilling, main ingredients—pasta, cannellini beans—and to deliver them to your stomach on a magic flying carpet of vivid flavor (and clumsy metaphor), and to do this very quickly. So you're matching them with vividly tart cherry tomatoes, vividly spicy jalapeño, a veritable shitload of garlic, and yes, goddammit, a fucking lot of salty, fishy, friggin' umami-y anchovy fillets, scary, scary anchovy fillets that you will not be afraid of because all together they weigh about as much as a fingernail and are food and you are not scared of food because you are a grownup and being scared of food is fucking ridiculous and stupid because food is good so just fucking do it already for chrissakes.

And hey, if you're just that fucking scared of a goddamn thimble's worth of cured fish, you may be consoled by the knowledge that your anchovies are going to dissolve to total invisibility in about 20 seconds of cooking. Move 'em around in the pan with a wooden spoon as they cook, and suddenly—hey! Wouldja lookit that! The scary anchovy boogeymen are all gone, and you may rest easy. (Either that, or they transmuted themselves into undead stalking beasts, like the Nazgûl.)

Turn down the heat under your saucepan to ensure that the garlic doesn't burn in the interval before your timer goes off. You may now twiddle your thumbs for a bit. Eventually the timer's gonna go off; you're very nearly done now, and the next few steps are going to happen nearly simultaneously. First, yank the tomatoes out of the oven and set them aside for just a few moments. Next, turn off the heat under your pasta pot and, using your tongs and then a ladle or mug, transfer the bucatini and a cup or two of pasta water from the pasta pot to the saucepan. Turn the heat back up, give the saucepan's contents a good toss or two, then add the rinsed cannellini beans and toss again a few times to get them dispersed through the pasta.

Finally, add the roasted tomatoes to the pan and give the whole mess another very gentle toss or two. You just want to integrate the tomatoes a little bit—it's OK and even maybe a little bit good if some of them pop, but try not to do too much violence to them, lest you rob yourself of the experience of a roasted cherry tomato bursting inside your mouth as you eat and instantly redeeming every rotten moment of your compromised and regret-stained life. Slap a cover on the saucepan and step away for three or four more minutes of determined thumb-twiddling.

Three or four minutes have passed; the beans are hot; your dinner has finished cooking. Get that food onto some plates, sprinkle each serving with a little bit of grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, and serve.

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Look. Intellectually, you might not like the idea of a foodstuff so prominently flavored by a shitload of anchovies, but that's OK, because your tongue and your nose and your stomach will love it, and if you haven't already, you are about to discover that they are running the show here and have only been humoring your brain before now. Relax, brain. Trust the team. You'll be OK.

A lot of exciting things will happen in your mouth as you eat, which will be a pleasant surprise, since most of the actual physical matter you will be putting into it, after all, will be pasta noodles and beans. Pay attention to the order in which the different accompanying flavors—tomato, anchovy, garlic, jalapeño, cheese—announce themselves on your palate. Fun! When you finish your plate, as you assuredly will, and quite quickly, you'll find that the beans and pasta have satisfied your stomach, but that the heat and salt and acidity and pungency have left you wanting more. Got 10 bucks? Run it back. Surely you can find some more room in there somewhere.

Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness at albertburneko@gmail.com. Top image by Jim Cooke.