Just saying the word “anchovy” makes many a person shudder. That is why I have chosen to omit the word from the title of this recipe and post. I don’t want to turn anyone away at the door before they’ve had a chance to set foot inside the kitchen to taste what’s cooking. Yes, I get it. Anchovies are not the most aesthetically pleasing food item. They are hairy and smell fishy. There was a time in my life where I co
uldn’t understand why anyone would choose to put them on a pizza. Or like my mother used to do, pull them straight from the tin, place onto crostini, and consume. Now that was just plain wrong (or so I thought).
My how my palette has changed over the years. Now I can’t seem to get enough of these little bites of salty goodness. They are incredible on Pizza Napolitana with cured black Italian olives, capers, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and dried oregano. Another one of my favorite ways to use anchovies is to chop them up finely and use them in sauces for pasta such as Spaghetti Aglio e Oglio or Spaghetti with Garlic and Olive Oil. Believe me when I say you won’t taste the fishiness. Rather, they will give the sauce that extra bit of saltiness it needs and tons of extra flavor.
Traditionally, Aglio e Oglio is made with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and parsley. Simple and delicious, it represents to me all that is wonderful about Italian cooking. But I’ve got another version with anchovies, arugula, and prosciutto that takes this humble pasta dish to the next level. I was given this Michael Chiarello recipe years ago by a former coworker of mine. The prosciutto bits which are slowly rendered in olive oil give a nice crunchy texture to the pasta and I love the peppery bite from the arugula.
I made a couple of slight changes to the original version, one being the addition of anchovies and the other substituting arugula for watercress. Hey, if the thought of adding anchovies makes you cringe, just omit them. Spinach is also another option if you don’t have arugula or watercress on hand. The trick to making any pasta dish is to remove it from the pot when it’s just at the point of being al dente and finish cooking it in the sauce. The starches from the pasta will absorb all of the flavors from the sauce.
Spaghetti Aglio Olio with Crispy Prosciutto Bits and Arugula
- 1 lb spaghetti
- 6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp thinly sliced garlic
- 3 anchovy filets, finely minced
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- Sea salt
- 6 cups arugula
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
- 2 Tbsp prosciutto bits (2 Tbsp olive oil + 1 lb sliced prosciutto finely chopped)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
To make the prosciutto bits, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring. The meat will give off steam for about 5 minutes while it releases its moisture. When the hiss of steam turns to a sizzle, turn the heat down to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the prosciutto bits are crisp, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bits to several thicknesses of paper towel to drain. The bits will crisp even more as they cool.
For the spaghetti, bring a large pot with salted water to boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Make sauce while pasta is cooking. In a large skillet or saute pan, combine the garlic with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and anchovies, and cook over medium heat until the garlic softens, about 4 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and cook for about a minute more. Scoop 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid into the pan with the garlic, then remove from the heat.
When the pasta is almost cooked, return the skillet to medium heat. Remove another 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid and reserve it to the side. When pasta is done, drain it in a colander. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss it with the hot oil. Add the remaining olive oil and enough of the reserved pasta liquid to coat the pasta nicely. Toss constantly over the heat for about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from the heat and add the arugula, parsley, and the prosciutto bits and stir to wilt the greens in the hot pasta.
Serve in bowls and sprinkle with cheese.