A great no-money recipe for the end of the month, when all the money has gone on beer and skittles. You probably have all these ingredients in the storecupboard already. This is a fiercely savoury dish, where the contrasting textures of crisply fried anchovy breadcrumbs and the soft pasta come together to make something really special.
Gremolata is a bit like a salsa verde – a finely-chopped Italian mixture of herbs, lemon zest and something sharp like capers. It’s delicious with meats, and I love it with this pasta, where its freshness lifts the richness of the crumbs and infused oil.
It’s important that you choose a good, well-flavoured olive oil for this recipe. Although it is tempting to use the oil you fried the crumbs in for infusing the garlic and chilli, it’s best to use fresh extra-virgin olive oil instead. The heat that the breadcrumbs oil is subject to over the cooking period will change its flavour slightly, and you’ll find you achieve a much fresher, more aromatic flavour from the infusing oil if you use a fresh batch and only allow it to warm gently.
To serve two you’ll need:
2 slices white bread
8 anchovy fillets
4 fat cloves garlic
4 dried chillies
1 small handful parsley
1 small handful basil
Zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons capers
2 servings of your favourite pasta
Parmesan cheese to taste
Salt and pepper
Plenty of olive oil
Put the bread in the food processor and whizz until you’ve got coarse breadcrumbs. In a large frying pan, fry the anchovies in about half a centimetre of olive oil until they ‘melt’ and come to pieces. Add the breadcrumbs to the pan, stir them well to combine them with the anchovies, and add more olive oil to the pan until the breadcrumbs are just covered. (Don’t worry; we’ll be draining this oil later.) At this point, the contents of the pan will look like a wet mess. Turn the heat to medium and leave, stirring every minute or so: gradually the wet mess will turn into golden, crisp, anchovy flavoured crumbs (10-15 minutes). Turn the oil and breadcrumbs into a sieve and leave the sieve over a bowl for ten minutes for as much oil to drain out as possible.
While the crumbs are cooking, prepare the infused oil by crushing the garlic and frying it gently in a little olive oil until it releases its scent (about thirty seconds). Remove from the heat and add half a wine glass of extra-virgin olive oil to the pan. Bash the chillies in a mortar and pestle until they are flaked and add them to the oil. Return the pan to the heat and warm the oil gently, then leave it in a warm place to infuse until the pasta is ready to be served.
To prepare the gremolata, chop the herbs finely, and mix with the lemon zest and chopped capers in a small bowl. This is one of the rare occasions where I prefer capers preserved in a briny vinegar to the salted kind – use whatever you have to hand.
Cook the pasta as usual, drain and return to the pan you cooked it in. Pour over the garlic and chilli oil, then spoon into serving bowls. Dress generously with the crumbs and gremolata, check for seasoning, and serve with lots of parmesan cheese to grate over.