Spaghetti with Anchovies, Kale & Breadcrumbs

If you’re looking to scrape together a meal from seemingly nothing, here’s one way to really hit it out of the park. In fact, breadcrumbs really do need to be scraped, swept or otherwise salvaged from a scattered mess on the counter to do this dish right. Minced anchovies and garlic create a tasty olive oil infusion to coat the pasta with, and some spare greens like kale, or just a shower of fresh parsley for garnish, combine for a healthy and effortless, last-minute dinner.

I suppose you’ll need to like the taste of anchovies first. I must say I was never a fan of those dry, shriveled things that sat atop a greasy, smelly slice of pizza when I was a kid. Since that unfortunate introduction to the little fish, I’ve grown very fond of anchovies — in salads, in sandwiches with sliced, hard-boiled eggs, or crushed up in Caesar dressing or tapenades. I now get cravings for the flavorful, oily fillets, which is precisely what happened before making this pasta. And I take no guilt from it — anchovies are a terrific source of omega-3 fatty acids and a highly sustainable choice for seafood.

oil-packed anchovies

I’m sure it won’t be too long before fresh anchovies will become more readily available; until then, you can always find them canned with oil. I used all of two spineless fillets of these little fish to create a one-portion serving; you can adjust and use more or less to your taste.

minced along with garlic

Mince up your fillets as finely as you can to create a sort of paste. This will be added to hot olive oil and practically dissolve. Also mince a clove or two of garlic per serving, and be careful not to let it burn on the pan.

I’d picked up a nice-looking box of baby trimmings of kale from the Greenmarket last weekend. It’s probably overwintered kale that had just grown back over the warm spring to this size. In any case, the small leaves were perfect for simply dropping into the saute rather than chopping up before. A pinch of salt and pepper, and all that awaited was the boiling spaghetti in the other pot.

baby kale leaves

After spaghetti is added, along with some of its cooking liquid, you can add a pat of butter, drizzle of olive oil, and extra seasoning to taste. The breadcrumbs make a spendthrifty, and texturally delightful substitute for grated cheese as a garnish. Also, the Italians have some thing against mixing cheese and seafood. These breadcrumbs were previously toasted in a very hot pan, swished around for a few moments until toasty-brown. Forget the things found on supermarket shelves — that’s all it takes to make great breadcrumbs. I didn’t even have to crush the ancient baguette the crumbs fell off from, either; it was so stale that all the bits at the bottom of the bag sufficed just fine.

stale breadcrumbs, before toasting

And hey — if you really feel you can’t get into anchovies at all, I might suggest mincing up some good, oil-packed olives instead of them here. Vegans and seafood-allergic, that’s all you, too.

Spaghetti with Anchovies, Kale and Breadcrumbs
(makes 2 servings)

about 1/2 lb spaghetti, or other dry pasta
4-5 flat anchovy fillets
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
about 1 cup fresh kale, baby leaves or coarsely chopped and stemmed if large
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh, toasted breadcrumbs for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and stir. Cook until al dente.

Once the pasta is nearly cooked and all the ingredients are prepped, heat a wide saucepan with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and once fragrant, add the minced anchovy and optional chili flakes. Cook over medium heat another few seconds and do not let burn. Add the kale leaves and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, about 1 minute or until wilted.

Transfer spaghetti directly to the pan of other ingredients, along with a couple splashes of its cooking liquid. Stir to incorporate and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a few more drizzles of olive oil. Serve in plates and garnish with the fresh parsley and toasted breadcrumbs.

Cost Calculator
(for 2 servings)

1/2 lb pasta: $1.50
5 anchovy fillets (from a 2 oz. can at $2.79): $1.25
3 garlic cloves: $0.10
1 cup fresh kale (at $3/small box at the Greenmarket): $1.00
2 tablespoons crumbs from stale loaf of bread: $0.20?
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (at $2/bunch): $1.25
4-5 tablespoons olive oil: $0.50

Total: $5.80

Health Factor

Four brownie points: It’s deceiving sometimes when you opt for a “light” pasta dish — often it’s drowned with butter, oil and cheese, or else a sodium-rich tomato sauce. While I’m no stranger to canned tomatoes, I try to leave them out as long as fresh ingredients like kale, garlic, and now anchovies can entertain my tastebuds as much. With kale, you’re getting tons of deep leafy-green nutrients like Vitamin K, iron, and fiber; even though used so sparsely, the anchovies make a big impact in flavor and are great sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, Vitamin A and even calcium.

Green Factor

Six maple leaves: Aside from the olive oil, pasta and canned anchovies, these ingredients were seasonal and found locally: kale, parsley (I’ve got a new windowsill plant for the summer), and the breadcrumbs, from a stale baguette. Whenever you have a stale baguette like that, it’s not a bad idea to crush it up and keep in a mason jar for future uses like this, rather than tossing it out. And while the can of anchovies were produced across the pond, the tiny fish themselves are about the most plentiful types of fish you can eat, rather than the big carnivorous ones that eat them.

6 Responses

  1. te

    It looks so tasty. I’d love it if you can make this dish for me.

  2. Kale Crusaders

    I love simple pasta and greens dishes.

    I recently made a similar recipe from the NYT Health section and substituted anchovies with capers. Delicious as well.

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  4. The Starving Artist

    Not only do I love this recipe, I completely love your blog. I used to live in NYC and I was the only one of my friends who actually cooked. Way to rock it out!

  5. 50omelets

    Just stumbled upon your blog and love it. I made this dish the other night, substituting breadcrumbs (not a huge fan) and anchovies for bacon (huge fan). I’m sure this variation would add brownie points to the recipe but I out-weigh occasional unhealthiness for flavor. And oh the flavor!

    Bacon disclaimer: everything in moderation, kids.

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