The anchovy addict

Image of Rowley Leigh

Those of us with a serious anchovy addiction will do anything to get our fix. Fortunately, although in a minority, we are a large and vociferous one. Wherever my addiction takes me, there are plenty of customers who will follow.

Not content with a starter of Parmesan custard with anchovy toasts, we offered and sold out of Collioure anchovies, prime specimens preserved in salt that we rinse and debone with our fingers to produce a beautiful pink fillet, very intense in flavour. We have served strips of roast pepper with a bagna cauda sauce laced with anchovies, courgette and anchovy beignets on top of a bit of skate, and laced our leg of lamb and braised beef with the little blighters. All of these in the last three months – and then I did the crumbs.

Outside Italy, people throw Parmesan cheese over pasta with some abandon, even committing the complete solecism of bombarding spaghetti vongole and other fish pasta with cheese. In Italy, even in the north and in Emilia Romagna, the home of Parmesan, they are a little more discriminatory. In the south they are even meaner. Cows being rare in the south and sheep’s cheese, however popular, being expensive to produce, means that cheese (and especially grated hard cheese) is by no means commonplace with pasta. Instead of sprinkling Parmesan or pecorino over a plate of al dente spaghetti lubricated with a rich and sweet tomato sauce, they are more likely to employ pane grattugiato, bread so stale that it can be grated and then fried in oil – sometimes with garlic – to give a little texture and seasoning to the pasta. This gave me an idea.

There is nothing very southern or robust about scallops and cherry tomatoes – I think sheer expediency got me to combine the two with spaghetti. Strangely, cherry tomatoes seem to have taken over from broccoli as the last man standing in my fridge at home. There always seems to be a lonely, half-forgotten punnet of them at the back, alongside a decaying half-bunch of spring onions and a squash that I never quite get round to using.

Scallops are in a different category: they are not neglected but I quite often have a few in the freezer since they freeze so remarkably well and come in handy for all sorts of uses.

You get the picture. Scallops and cherry tomatoes with spaghetti does not quite do it. They need a little help. Enter, stage left, pane grattugiato, heavily laced with anchovies.

It takes a little nerve to fry the breadcrumbs in a rather muddy soup of anchovies and oil but, slowly, all becomes clear as the crumbs become crisp and the oil clarifies.

Another good day for the anchoholic.

Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais

A last chance to read 15 brilliant Heston Blumenthal recipes:

Spaghetti with scallops, cherry tomatoes and anchovy crumbs


A beguilingly simple recipe: the pasta must still have a bite. Serves six as a starter or simple lunch.

4 slices stale, “pain de campagne” bread

6 anchovy fillets

1 clove garlic

1 cup olive oil

500g spaghetti

20-30 cherry tomatoes

18-24 scallops, depending on size

10 leaves of mint

● Remove the crusts and chop the bread on the “pulse” setting of the food processor to produce even but quite coarse breadcrumbs. Pound the anchovy fillets with the clove of garlic in a mortar and pestle and grind to a smooth paste, letting the mixture down a little with a squeeze of lemon juice.

● Whisk the olive oil and anchovy paste together in a frying pan and heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook on a gentle heat, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until the crumbs are crisp. Drain in a sieve and then dry on a piece of kitchen towel.

● Bring a large pot of water to the boil with a handful of salt. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Detach the roe from the scallops (if there) and cut away (and discard) the abductor muscle before cutting the scallops into quarters.

Mint leaves

● When the water is at a rolling boil, add the spaghetti and stir a little to separate the strands. Heat a second deep saucepan or wok and sauté the cherry tomatoes in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt and some milled black pepper or a pinch of chilli flakes. Continue cooking the tomatoes, tossing them occasionally, until they start to wilt and render their juice. Maintaining the high heat, add the scallops and seize them in the mix.

● When the spaghetti is al dente, lift it out into the second pan with the scallops and tomatoes. Stir continually, folding together the scallops, spaghetti, tomatoes and chopped mint, loosening the mix with a ladleful of the pasta water. Check the seasoning – not too much salt – and then decant on to six plates. Sprinkle with anchovy crumbs. Serve.

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