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I’d hate to be a kid these days

Imagine coming back from school in 2022… No Newsround with Lizo or Blue Peter with Konnie. And now no more Toadie, Harold and Karl. This, for me, has to be a backward step in the development of today’s youth.

After a long run, Neighbours deserves our love and attention. As does this week’s recipe for spaghetti burro e alici (literally: spaghetti with butter and anchovies).

This is one of the easiest pasta dishes out there yet it remains relatively unknown and under-appreciated. Give it two years and it will be everywhere - enjoying its own burrata / salted caramel / pulled pork moment. Until then, you have this recipe.

This week’s album: 
Swimming by Mac Miller

It’s impossible to pick one Mac Miller album. However, this one is significant as it introduced a very different style of music compared to Miller’s previous work. There’s a sombre, darker tone to it as he discusses heartbreak and his mental health (the album came after his split from Ariana Grande and a charge of drunk driving). Look out for ‘2009’ which is painfully good (and watch his performance of it on Tiny Desk).

What is spaghetti burro e alici?

In short: salty and umami-rich anchovies are melted into unsalted butter to make a quick sauce that hugs spaghetti like a long-lost lover.

This is a very addictive dish, and one that’s perfect for summer when you don’t want to be spending too much time in the kitchen.

Traditionally, this sauce is made purely with butter, anchovies, and maybe a little black pepper. However, I like to add a squeeze of lemon for some acidity and chopped parsley for some freshness. Both help balance the rich and salty sauce.

I also love serving this dish with ‘pangrattato’, which we’ve seen before in a couple of pasta dishes involving courgette and wild garlic. It provides crunch and then a particularly moreish texture once the breadcrumbs start to absorb the sauce.

Fair warning… This dish may not be to everyone’s liking. If you're an anchovy fan then you’re gonna love it. If you’re not then it’s probably not for you. That said, you can alter the amount of anchovies you use depending on your fan status.

Two notes on the pasta:

1. The standard rule to follow when cooking pasta is that for every 100g of pasta you should use 1 litre of water seasoned with 10g of salt.

This is correct for the majority of dishes but there are always some exceptions. Because our sauce contains very salty anchovies, we’ll reduce the amount of salt used in the water by about a third.

2. We’ll reduce the amount of water used as it will help make a better sauce.

Why? As pasta cooks it releases starch. This is key to making a decent pasta sauce. By reducing the amount of water in this recipe, the water’s starch content at the end of cooking will be higher. The starch will help emulsify the mostly buttery sauce, making a thick and glossy sauce. Glorious.

What you need

The below serves 4. It takes 10 mins to prep and 15 mins to cook.

100g day-old bread (or fresh breadcrumbs)
2 tsps of chilli flakes (optional)
60g unsalted butter
10 anchovy fillets 
(oil reserved)
400g spaghetti
¼ lemon
(juice only)
10g parsley (roughly chopped)
Sea salt & black pepper

Ready, steady, cook

1. Tear or cut your bread into smaller pieces, then use a food processor to blitz them into breadcrumbs.

2. Place a frying pan on a medium heat. Heat 2 tbsps of the reserve anchovy oil until hot but not smoking. Add your breadcrumbs and a sprinkle of sea salt. Sauté, stirring regularly, for about 5 mins.

Now add your chilli flakes (if using) and continue to cook for another few mins (or until everything is dried and golden). This is your pangrattato. When done, transfer to a tray so it cools down. Wipe out the frying pan.

TIP: it’s important to stir regularly to ensure even toasting, and to be patient. Keep a close eye on the colour and don’t be tempted to turn up the heat to speed up the process. We’re aiming for a golden brown which will take about 10 mins.

3. Place a pot of salted water on to boil. Separately, return the frying pan to a medium-low heat.

4. Add the butter to the frying pan and, when melted, put in the anchovies. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to break down the anchovies until they melt into the butter. This will take a few mins. When done, turn off the heat.

5. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and set a timer for 3 mins less than the instructions suggest.

6. Just before the timer goes, return the frying pan to a high heat. Use tongs to transfer the spaghetti directly from the water to the frying pan, followed by a ladle of the pasta-cooking water (which should look very cloudy).

As we’ve deliberately undercooked the spaghetti we need to finish the cooking process in the frying pan. This will take a few mins. Add your pasta-cooking water, half a ladle at a time, and stir or toss the pan regularly until the spaghetti is cooked, but still al dente. Use as much water as is needed to coat everything nicely in the buttery sauce.

7. When done, add in the chopped parsley, lemon juice and some freshly ground black pepper. Stir through.

For extra luxury you can add in a couple of knobs of cold butter and then transfer to warmed plates. Finally, scatter over the pangrattato. Grub’s up.

Final thought

Our tastes change as we get older. When you were a kid you may have hated the saltiness of anchovies. Fair play. But: have you tried them since? If not, do. You may be surprised.

Speak next week,


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Eat My Words · Kew Gardens · Kew, TW9 · United Kingdom

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