When I was a kid, I used to associate anchovies with those nasty little shrunken things that could be found on some pizzas. In addition to their poor appearances, they were always dry and overly salty. Needless to say, they weren’t my favorite at the time.
Only recently have I discovered the versatility of the amazingly inexpensive, flavorful anchovy. Just one tin of the little guys can add instant punch to pastas, sauces, veggies, dressings, you name it. They add an umami flavor that is briny and rich and has just a little bit of something extra that can’t be matched by anything else.
The humble anchovy shines in this easy pasta dish, as the anchovies form a “sauce” of sorts with olive oil, garlic, and dried red pepper flakes—a perfect combination to cut through the bitterness of the broccoli rabe.
Even if you don’t like anchovies, you’ll have a hard time even identifying them here, as they end up all mashed together, just lightly coating the pasta.
One tip for cooking with anchovies: don’t discard the oil in anchovies’ tin. It’s great to use in addition to the olive oil your dish calls for and just fully brings together all of the flavor that the anchovy offers.
Gemelli with Broccoli Rabe and Anchovies
Adapted from Epicurious
1 lb. gemelli or other corkscrew pasta
1 bunch broccoli rabe, remainder cut crosswise into 1″ pieces, coarse stems discarded
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 2-oz. can flat anchovy fillets, including oil
1/2 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water 6 minutes, then stir in broccoli rabe and boil until pasta is al dente, about 5 minutes more.
3. While pasta is cooking, toss panko with 1 tbsp. oil in a shallow baking pan until coated and bake, stirring once or twice, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Season crumbs with salt.
4. Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a 12″ heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add garlic, anchovies, and red-pepper flakes, stirring and mashing anchovies into oil with a wooden spoon, until garlic is golden, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
5. Drain pasta and broccoli rabe in a colander, then add to anchovy mixture in skillet, tossing to combine.
6. Serve pasta sprinkled with toasted panko and crumbled feta.
We adapted the recipe to add a little bit of feta on top for an additional salty kick and I’m glad we did. It’s a great parmesan substitute in a recipe like this and adds a bit of Mediterranean inspiration.
The panko, while an unusual ingredient for a pasta dish, is necessary for the texture and mild flavor that it adds in a bowl full of competing flavors. Sprinkling them on top at the very end ensures that they are crunchy and not soggy, as breadcrumbs in pasta tend to get.
The broccoli rabe is also a true stand-out here. Boiling it with the pasta helps the flavor permeate throughout the entire dish and it’s cooked just long enough to lose the bitter edge, but not so long that it’s soggy.
Having the broccoli rabe made me ache for spring to arrive immediately, as I greatly miss seeing the beautiful flowering broccoli at the greenmarket stands. The weather has been trending that way in the last week so maybe, just maybe, it’s not entirely wishful thinking?