Fish of the month
Super simple anchovy pasta
Anchovies are like marmite, they really divide opinion. Like marmite, they also add a sublimely savoury depth of flavour to a dish. Even anchovy haters will enjoy this. Essentially we’re making a flavoured oil, with anchovies bringing a real umami hit to the base and the confit garlic and fennel seeds providing the aromatics. It’s a doddle to knock up and is a pretty standard weekly dinner in my house. Especially when the cupboards are bare. You could also add some steamed greens like broccoli or kale. Or use the flavoured oil to cheer up a veggie side dish.
Anchovies vary hugely in quality and sustainability. The vast majority are caught off the coast of Peru, but rather than feed people directly, they normally enter the fish meal supply chain. The fishery for Peruvian anchovetta is one of the largest in the world, but is very erratic, with catches yoyoing each year. Their life-cycles are particularly sensitive to changes in the marine environment and El Niño in particular. These fisheries are rated 4-5 on the Good Fish Guide so we wouldn’t recommend them, but there are some good options closer to home.
There’s an MSC certified fishery for anchovy in Cantabria in Spain. Look out for these, as not only are they one of the most sustainable options, they’re also delicious. Most of those caught in and around Europe come from sustainable sources, but it’s best to cross-check the tins in the supermarket with the Good Fish Guide website or app to guarantee you’re making the best choice.
A good glug of olive oil
2 anchovy fillets
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp of fennel seeds
Dried chilli (to taste)
75g dry pasta (of your choice)
1 small handful of fresh parsley (if you have some), finely chopped
1 small handful of Parmesan, or other hard cheese, grated
When you’re ready, pour enough olive oil into a small pan to coat the base by a few millimetres. This might seem like a lot, but don’t worry.
Pop the pan on the heat and add the anchovy fillets to the oil. We’ll be cooking on the lowest heat possible, so use your smallest burner at the lowest temperature.
Slice the garlic as thinly as you can and add these to the anchovies (which should be rapidly disintegrating in the oil). Grind the fennel seeds and chilli in a pestle and mortar and stir these in as well
Keep an eye on the oil, you don’t want it bubbling and the garlic shouldn’t be taking on any colour. If the garlic starts to catch or brown, turn off the heat, give it a good stir and leave the ingredients to slowly mingle in the residual heat
After half an hour or so, the garlic should be meltingly soft. It’s not much to look at, but it should be smelling great!
Cook your choice of pasta in plenty of salty water. Just before your pasta is ready, if your oil is off the heat, warm it up again
Strain the pasta and reserve a small cupful of the cooking water. Add your pasta to the flavoured oil and add the Parmesan and chopped herbs. Stir to combine. The cheese and oil will become a bit claggy, so loosen with some of the starchy pasta water and keep stirring gently until everything’s combined and your pasta has a lovely sheen
Tip into a bowl and enjoy!