top of page

Spaghetti with fresh anchovies

ingredients for spaghetti with fresh anchovies

Don't complain that you don't like anchovies because fresh anchovies have nothing in common with those dark brown salty slivers in a jar. Not that I would ever disparage acciughe sott'olio or acciughe sotto sale because there are so many really good Italian pasta dishes that begin with olive oil, garlic in camicia and a couple of anchovy fillets that are melted into the oil before adding the main ingredient. You never really taste the anchovy, its role is to act as a flavor enhancer.

cleaning fresh anchovies

I only buy fresh anchovies a few times a year because cleaning them is a little tedious but it's always worth the time and trouble and when 400 grams of fresh anchovies cost only 3 euros, spaghetti with fresh anchovies may be the cheapest, most nutritious dinner ever created.

Anchovies are a rich source of Omega 3 fatty acids which play a role in reducing the likelihood of macular degeneration and a Harvard Medical School study found that people with a diet rich in omega-3 acids have lower levels of the protein beta-amyloid which is a marker for Alzheimer's disease. Anchovies are also an excellent source of selenium.

A supermarket fresh fish counter in Lucca

The helpful ladies behind the fresh fish counter at the Coop supermarket in Lucca will always show you the best way to clean an anchovy and after the first few you quickly get into the rhythm - remove the head, run your thumb down the center of the body to spill out the guts and take out the entire backbone with the tail attached, rinse and repeat.

400 grams of small anchovies is about 40 minutes of work for the average person who doesn't do it regularly but once the messy work is done this dish takes no longer than the 11 minutes it takes to boil the pasta.

cleaned fresh anchovies

Ingredients for 3 people

360g spaghetti

400g fresh anchovies (weight pre-cleaning)

10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved

A little fresh chopped parsley

A handful of fine breadcrumbs

A few capers and a few olives

Half glass dry white wine

Dribble of red wine vinegar

Extra virgin Italian olive oil

2 or 3 cloves of garlic

Salt & freshly ground black pepper


1. Add salt, pepper, olive oil, breadcrumbs, a little chopped parsley and a dribble of red wine vinegar to the rinsed and dried anchovy fillets, mix well and sauté on medium heat for only 2-3 minutes depending on how crowded the pan is. Don't overcook these delicate things and remove to a bowl to add back later.

2. Put the spaghetti into a pot of salted boiling water.

3. Using the sauté pan in which the fresh anchovies were cooked, add olive oil, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic in camicia and 2 preserved anchovies from a jar. Melt the anchovies and then add the wine, allow the alcohol to burn off for a few seconds then add the tomatoes (or a little passata) together with the capers and olives.

(don't add too many tomatoes, capers or olives because this dish would then basically become spaghetti alla puttanesca which is not the intention because the fresh anchovies will be overpowered by stronger flavors).

4. When the spaghetti has only 3 minutes left to cook, remove the garlic from the sauté pan and add the spaghetti together with a ladle or two of the cooking water. Turn the heat up and whisk the spaghetti around as it finishes cooking. The goal is to be left with a sauce rather than a watery mess so it takes a little experience and judgement to add only the right quantity of cooking water and allow the surplus to evaporate as the spaghetti finishes cooking.

5. Turn the heat off and add the cooked anchovy fillets back to the pan and mix well with the spaghetti to warm them. Add a dribble of good olive oil and a scattering of chopped parsley and serve.

a bowl of spaghetti with fresh anchovies


bottom of page