Today, I am sharing my version of a recipe that I’ve been making for sometime now, although I can’t remember where the original inspiration came from. It might have been from the pages of one of my many foodie magazines or because the Food Network is frequently on as background noise when I am doing chores. Either way, the Sicilian origins of the recipe are well documented and versions of it exist all over the place. Luckily, a quick Google search revealed that my own twist on the recipe has not yet been done – or at least documented on the Inter-webs 🙂 See, after making slight variation of this dish for years, I realized that is about as far from a well rounded meal as you can get – pasta, bread, oil, and itty-bitty fish are not the poster child for a complete meal. So I decided I needed to add vegetables while keeping with the overall idea of the meal and maybe even adding a bit of color. Enter zucchini! By cutting the zucchini thinly and substituting fettuccine for spaghetti, you end up with very similar shapes and textures that preserve the overall concept of the dish. When choosing your zucchini, I recommend picking 2 smaller vegetables. This not only ensures you have more of the dense flesh and few seeds, but it also allows you to have more of the bright green skin in the dish for color.
The other ingredients are just as important as picking the right zucchini – as Ruth and I have said before, the simpler the dish the higher the quality of ingredients. First, the olive oil. I like to use 2 different types: 1) a good quality virgin olive oil and 2) an even better quality extra virgin olive oil. I use about a ¼ cup of olive oil to melt the anchovies in the skillet and lightly cook the garlic and red pepper flakes. Right before I toss the pasta and zucchini in the oil, I add a ¼ cup of the really nice extra virgin olive oil. By separating the olive oils like this, I am able to preserve the delicate flavor and nutrients of the extra virgin olive oil.
Second, the anchovy fillets. Anchovies are a small fish and a key ingredient in Caesar dressing. They are often confused with sardines, but they are not the same and should not be substituted because anchovies have a more delicate and less-fishy flavor that sardines. Trust me on this, I made the mistake once of thinking sardines would work in this recipe – it was a disaster. For this recipe, you will want flat anchovies stored in olive oil, not salt-packed anchovies. I find little difference between Italian and Spanish anchovies, but I know people who do have preferences, so I recommend trying them both, I typically buy whichever brand is in a jar instead of a tin and go from there.
Finally, the breadcrumbs. I like to use breadcrumbs made from fresh baked bread since these will be toasted. You can use pre-made breadcrumbs, but skip the toasting step as they already have the prerequisite crunch.
And now, finally, for the recipe!
Zucchini Pasta with Anchovy Breadcrumbs
8 ounces (half a box) fettuccine pasta
3-4 skinny zucchini
¼ tablespoon olive oil
10 oil-packed anchovy fillets
6 cloves of garlic
red pepper flakes to taste
¾ cup toasted breadcrumbs
¼ cup parsley, roughly chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1) Create your zucchini ribbons/noodles one of two ways. I like to use a mandolin to thinly slice the zucchini. Stack the zucchini slices on top of one another and cut to form ¼ inch ribbons. You can also use a vegetable peeler to create thin, less uniform zucchini ribbons. Stop creating the ribbons when all you have left is the seedy part of the zucchini.
2) Remove any loose papery peel from the garlic, leaving the skin closest to the cloves. Boil garlic cloves in a medium sauce pan for about 15 minutes, or until soft. Remove and let cool until they can be peeled. Then mash the garlic with a fork.
3) While the garlic cooks, combine breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan on a lined cookie sheet and toast in an oven preheated to 300°F. Remove when breadcrumbs are a light brown – about 8 minutes. Stir in chopped parsley.
4) Put a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta as directed, adding the zucchini when you have about 3-4 minutes of cooking time left.
5) In a deep (at least 2-in deep) frying pan (about 10-inches wide) over medium heat stir together olive oil, garlic, and anchovies. Continue to stir together until anchovies have dissolved into the oil.
6) Toss the pasta and zucchini in the olive oil. Sprinkle on breadcrumb mixture and toss to coat. Serve warm.