A Traditional Christmas Eve: Pasta con Accuighe

On Christmas Eve, Italians and many Italian-Americans eat a seafood feast.  There is no meat whatsoever.  Traditionally, up to eleven different kids of fish were served (for the Apostles, minus Judas), but over the years, my family has scaled that back to three (for the Holy Trinity).  It has to be an odd number for good luck.  We always start the meal with one of my favorite dishes, Pasta con Sardo, which is spaghetti in red sauce, embellished with sardines, raisins, fennel, and often pine nuts.  The creation of this dish can get complicated.  The following dish is a lot simpler to make, but adheres to the same Christmas Eve standards I’ve come to follow.  It uses canned anchovies instead….wait!  Don’t stop reading!!  I promise you it is delicious!

Anchovies do not sit at the “popular table” in the cafeteria.  They are not pretty or sweet, and many foods don’t want to hang out with them.  Anchovies definitely have a following, but their friends are a little more alternative…they wear black and are sometimes seen as antisocial.  But what most people don’t know about the anchovies are that they are actually MUCH cooler than most of the foods at the popular table, they are just more of an acquired taste. 

Popular or not, I happen to love anchovies.  I grew up eating anchovies on white pizza, which was my great Aunt Nellie’s New Year’s Eve specialty.  I love bagna cauda, an olive oil dip made with anchovies, and I especially love anchovies in pasta dishes.  Over the summer, while visiting Italy’s Liguria region, I was in anchovy heaven.  Bordering the Mediterranean in the Italian Rivera, the local cuisine relies heavily on seafood.  Anchovies are the regional specialty, and “pasta con accuighe” is found in most every restaurant.   

This pasta dish is features a simple red sauce studded with chunks of fresh anchovies.  Fresh anchovies have a decidedly different taste than the tinned or jarred varieties with which we are most familiar here in the states.  Not only is the texture different (they are meatier), but they are more mellow and a little less salty.  However, since fresh anchovies are not widely available in most U.S. grocery stores, I’ve re-created the recipe using the tinned version. 

For this dish I pair the anchovy-enhanced red sauce with a lemon-pepper papparadelle I found at Trader Joe’s (although you could easily substitute regular pasta).  Lemon and pepper flavors go well with most seafood, and the zip in the pasta is a great compliment to the salty sauce.  On a recent night, I was short on time and decided to use my favorite jarred tomato sauce instead of making one from scratch (cue Grandma rolling over in her grave).  While the pasta cooked, I added some sauce to a small pan, added the anchovies, and stirred until they dissolved into the sauce.  I topped the dish with fresh parsley and a few chopped walnuts for texture.  It wasn’t exactly what I ate in Monterosso back in August, but it was a great 15 minute alternative with great flavor. 

Lemon-Pepper Pasta with Anchovies

Serves 2

1 – 12 oz package Lemon-Pepper Papparadelle (or other lemon-infused pasta)

1 cup basic tomato sauce (I opt for Victoria brand)

6 anchovy fillets packed in oil (drained)

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

¼ cup walnuts, chopped

Cook pasta according to package directions, until al dente.

While pasta cooks, add tomato sauce to a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat.  Once simmering, add anchovy fillets and stir until dissolved.

Drain pasta and toss with sauce.  Top with parsley and walnuts and serve immediately.

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