Ever since I can remember, there were food traditions in the Cooney house during the holidays. Christmas there was always a sour cream coffee cake, Easter was always a gooey, cheesy lasagna. I’m sure my mother cooked something special on Palm Sunday, but that escapes me now, 30 years into my adulthood.
A crystal clear memory, however, was Good Friday’s spaghetti and alici, a garlicky, salty dinner of spaghetti, olive oil, garlic and anchovies. Coming from a Catholic Irish/Italian family, we had to have fish on Fridays during Lent, and a special Good Friday meal every year. I thought this dinner was perhaps the single most disgusting meal ever created on the face of the earth! It was even worse than tuna, although I always made an exception for my mom’s tuna cheddar chowder. Chunk light tuna, while it’s an economy product, has a bad fish smell. To this day I can only eat white tuna or fresh tuna. To my adolescent nose and palate, spaghetti and alici was tuna doused in salt and heated, which only served to amplify the fish funk. Blech.
It was only many years later that I began to appreciate the warm, fruity olive oil perfumed with garlic, and the delightfully salty anchovies melted down gently in the oil, tossed with a perfect al dente pasta. It is now one of my favorite dishes, one that, fortunately, my husband Richard appreciates as well. It’s not just for Good Friday anymore; it’s a regular fixture on our table. Sometimes I add some chili flakes to make it interesting. If you love anchovies, use two cans in the same amount of oil – it’s all good.
Spaghetti and Alici
- 8 oz. long pasta (any kind)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 huge, juicy cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled and minced
- 2-oz. can of anchovies in olive oil, undrained
- 1/8 – 1/4 tsp. red chili flakes, optional
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Cook pasta in boiling, salted water according to package directions. Remember that this is your only chance to add flavor TO the pasta, so be sure to salt that water.
- Put olive oil and garlic in a cold pan (I use a frying pan). Heat them together over medium heat. When the garlic is sizzling and giving off a nice aroma, add the anchovies and their oil. As they heat, break them up using a wooden spoon and stir occasionally until they have melted into a paste. Add chili flakes and turn off the heat.
- Drain pasta when it’s done and put in a warm serving bowl. Add alici, using a silicone scraper to get every last bit of oil out of the pan. Toss well to distribute anchovies and garlic and then sprinkle with parsley. Toss again and serve with a green salad on the side and a loaf of crusty bread.
Leftovers are great in a frittata the next day (assuming there are any leftovers, that is).
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