“Pasta c’anciova e muddica” is the Sicilian name of this popular recipe; it literally means pasta with anchovy and breadcrumbs. The recipe is very old and probably has been around since the invention of pasta. It is an example of “cucina povera” (the peasant cooking or the cooking of the poor people). Anchovy has always been part of the Sicilian diet; the island is located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and people have been catching and preserving anchovy for centuries. Breadcrumbs, from stale bread, were used instead of grated cheese because only the rich could afford to use cheese (pecorino or ricotta, because, in the past, that was the type of cheese you could find in Sicily). There are different versions of this recipe, but in general terms, people from the west of the island (i.e. Palermo) like to add tomato to their sauce, while people from the east (i.e. Catania) do not use tomato.
The Spanish introduced the tomato in Europe around the 16th century and, initially, it was used only as ornamental plant. Then, in the 17th century, tomato started to appear in various recipes. It is likely that “Pasta c’anciova e muddica” dates back before the introduction of the tomato to the island, hence the oldest recipe is the east version. Here, I am presenting the east version of the recipe and I hope you will all enjoy it; it is a great dish if you love anchovy.
Ingredients (Metric & Imperial measurements)
Nutrition facts: Calories 650 per serving.
Ingredients (U.S. measurements)
Note 1: anchovy fillets are normally available in any supermarkets and most of the time are preserved in olive oil or salt. The first time you make this dish, add the anchovies straight from the jar/can. If you find the finished dish a bit too salty for your taste, next time you can rinse the anchovies in water and pat dry with kitchen paper. This is also the reason why, in the ingredient list, I have not mentioned “salt for seasoning” - you shouldn’t need it remembering that the pasta will be salty too.
Note 2: for the breadcrumbs use stale bread, ideally from some rustic country bread (do not use breadcrumbs from the packet).
Slice the bread.
Remove the crust.
Using a cook knife, chop the bread to make breadcrumbs. The aim is to obtain roughly chopped breadcrumbs, of uneven size and shape. This will give the dish its final rustic appeal! (do not use the food processor).
After 5 minutes chopping, your breadcrumbs should be, more or less, like this.
The preparation of the anchovy sauce is very quick so I suggest you fill, just now, a large pan with approximately 4 litres (1 gallon + 5/8 cup) of water and add salt (10 g for each litre of water - 1/3 ounce for every 4 1/8 cups of water). While you are bringing the water to the boil, do as follows.
Cut the anchovy fillets in small pieces, crush the garlic with the large blade of a knife, roughly chop the parsley and cut the chilli into rings (discarding the seeds).
To prepare the sauce, take a large sauce pan and gently infuse the oil with the garlic (crushed), on low heat, until the garlic become golden in colour. Tilting the pan will allow you to better infuse the oil and it is less likely that the garlic become burned.
When the garlic is golden in colour, remove it from the pan and discard the garlic.
Meanwhile the water to boil the pasta should be ready (fast boiling). Quickly throw the pasta into the pan and carry on with the anchovy sauce. From here, check your time because you will have roughly 10 minutes to complete the sauce.
Add the anchovy into the sauce pan.
Stir to help in dissolving the anchovy. The low heat will give you time to break down the anchovy without the risk of burning it. This process should take less than two minutes.
When the anchovy is dissolved, add the chilli.
Stir and sweat the chilli for a minute or two (still on low heat).
Add the parsley.
Stir for few seconds and reserve the sauce into a glass bowl.
Set the bowl aside, just for few minutes.
We are left with the sauce pan empty. Bring the pan to medium/medium-high heat.
Add the breadcrumbs into the sauce pan.
Toast the breadcrumbs until slightly brown. The process should take about two or three minutes. When the breadcrumbs are toasted, remove the pan from the heat.
Meanwhile, the pasta should be ready (cooked al dente). Drain the pasta and return it back into the large pan you used to boil it.
Add the sauce, you have previously set aside, to the pasta.
Add the breadcrumbs to the pasta and give the pasta a big stir. However, keep some breadcrumbs (a scant tablespoon for each plate) for the final garnish.
Here is the final dish.
Federico Pezzaioli is an ex-badass Italian Paratrooper on a mission - to make creating delicious authentic Italian food really easy. He researches, writes and photographs each recipe with the same attention to detail he used to apply to packing his parachute.
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