Spaghetti con Alici Fresche (Spaghetti with Fresh Anchovies)

Now is the time of the year when anchovies show up at the fish market. And it's also the time when wild fennel grows in California. During May and June I pick the fronds and use them in various dishes (here is a recipe that I prepared last year using wild fennel), but my favorite is a pasta dish that combines wild fennel with fresh anchovies. The recipe didn't make it into my book, so I can give it to you!

Wild fennel fronds:

If you can’t find wild fennel fronds follow the recipe below that uses fresh parsley. But it's the addition of the wild fennel that really makes it.

Here's the finished sauce.

Spaghetti tossed with the sauce:

The video below shows you how to clean anchovies. Lots of people don’t like to clean fresh anchovies or sardines because it is time-consuming, but it is well worth the effort.

Spaghetti con Alici Fresche

Spaghetti with Fresh Anchovies

For a printable recipe click here

This quick anchovy and tomato sauce is similar to the one I make with swordfish in my cookbook; you can prepare it in the time it takes to cook the pasta.  You are not making a thick, long-simmered tomato sauce here but a fresh, light, summery sauce with recognizable pieces of tomato and anchovy. Sometimes I omit the tomato entirely, making the dish in bianco.  If you can’t find fresh anchovies, you can substitute fresh sardines. They are larger and will take a little longer to cook.

1-1/2 pounds (675 grams) fresh anchovies

1 pound (450 grams) spaghetti, bucatini, or linguine

1/4 cup (60 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small fresh hot red peppers, such as cayenne or Thai, minced (optional)

1  pound (450 grams) cherry tomatoes, halved

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons chopped wild fennel (or chopped flat leaf parsley, if wild fennel is not in season)

Clean the anchovies as shown in the video above. Separate each boneless anchovy into 2 fillets.

Bring 5 quarts (5 liters) of water to a boil in an 8-quart (8-liter) pot over high heat. Add 1/4 cup (35 grams) kosher salt, then add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, warm the olive oil in a large skillet over moderately low heat. Add the garlic and hot peppers and cook briefly to release the garlic fragrance without browning it.  Next add the chopped wild fennel (if substituting the parsley in place of the fennel, add it at the end of cooking the sauce).  Turn the heat to high and add the anchovy fillets and cook for about 45 seconds until the anchovies are white. Add the tomatoes and salt and cook, stirring just long enough to soften the tomatoes and draw out some of their juices, about one minute. Stir in the parsley (if not using the wild fennel).Set aside 1 cup (250 milliliters) of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the warm pot. Add the sauce and toss gently, moistening if necessary with some of the reserved pasta water. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.