A cook’s recipe, spaghetti al limone Amalfitano, takes pantry staples and lets you tweak them to your taste. A simple dressing of lemon, fish sauce, garlic, and anchovies come together to make this intensely flavored Italian classic.
After we visited his lemon farm, Luigi promised to meet us at our house. He showed up a few hours later with his fruit, some prosecco, and a bag of good, artisanal dried pasta. Then he began to cook. His version of this spaghetti al limone Amalfitano was extremely sour—the man loves lemons. We adapted it to round it out with the subtle umami taste of anchovy, plus plenty of the fish sauce that is so crucial to the food here, and a bit of chile and parsley. The Amalfi lemon is a rare thing; standard American ones are lesser but serviceable alternatives, but they’re more sour so you might want to reduce the juice a bit to taste. Meyer lemons, I think, would work well, though I haven’t tested them in this instance. If you can’t find colatura di alici, a good brand of Thai (Megachef) or Vietnamese (Red Boat) fish sauce will also be very good, but the fish sauce will be sharper, and more immediate. This is a cook’s recipe; your tongue, rather than my words, is most important.–Jarrett Wrisley & Paolo Vitaletti
Spaghetti al Limone Amalfitano
- Kosher salt
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 5 salted anchovy fillets* finely chopped
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons colatura di alici (Italian fish sauce) or good southeast Asian fish sauce plus more as needed
- Juice of one Amalfi lemon (or a small standard lemon) (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1 pound dried spaghetti (a brand with a rough texture that will cling to the minimal sauce is ideal)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- chile flakes to taste
- Pinch of dried oregano
- Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil.
- In a large serving bowl, combine the finely chopped garlic and anchovies and stir in the olive oil, fish sauce, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice (don’t use all the juice from the lemon at once; save some and add it later to taste). You can also process this in a food processor.
- Cook the pasta in the salted water until al dente, reserving a cup of the pasta water to create the sauce.
- Drain the pasta, and dump it into the bowl with the lemon sauce mixture. Add a spoonful or two of the reserved pasta water to help loosen and bind the sauce, and toss the hot pasta until it is coated with sauce and tastes of lemon and salt.
- Adjust the seasoning with more fish sauce, lemon, or pasta water. Stir in the parsley, chile flakes, and oregano. Serve immediately.
*What can I substitute for anchovies?Fish sauce is a perfect substitute for anchovies, but in a recipe like this, one that already calls for both, you might not want to double down on the fish sauce. You can, instead, use anchovy paste keeping in mind that the flavor isn't quite the same—the paste has a milder flavor and often added vinegar or spices. Just make sure to taste to your preference. Shrimp paste, capers, Japanese umeboshi paste, or Worcestershire sauce all have the salty umami boost that can work well here, too.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This spaghetti al limone Amalfitano is a quick, flavorful pasta dish that is bright and rich at the same time. It comes together in less than 30 minutes and would be nice, as the recipe headnote says, with fish. We enjoyed it with a side of broccoli and some salad and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmigiano.
Lemons, pasta, and anchovies—how could I resist trying this recipe for spaghetti al limone Amalfitano! It had some of our favorite flavors, yet can be a pantry meal for any night of the week -- and if you are lucky to have excellent fish for the main course this is a perfect ‘primo piatto’.
Scaled for two people as a main, the recipe came together quickly. My bowl for making the sauce was a suribachi (an unglazed, Japanese grinding bowl with ridges and a wooden pestle). As the pasta was cooking, I gave the sauce an extra stir every now and then, blending and gently breaking down the anchovies and garlic a bit further without any need for a food processor. Since I was dividing the sauce, I used 3 anchovies, which was just right (not too forward), and the lemon and garlic seem to balance the fish sauce and it all works without any breadcrumbs or cheese to be a toothsome pasta dish.
It's worth using the nicest spaghetti you can find. I prefer the slightly thicker ones (this was a No. 3, made by Rummo) and it's made traditionally with bronze dies, with texture to grab hold of what could be a slippery sauce. The parsley added a fresh texture and color and I definitely would make sure to include it. Bonus—my anchovies were rolled around capers, which I left in to chop with the anchovy and garlic to add their own piquancy. I used all the lemon juice, and might also add the zest next time.
With summer right around the corner, I'm very excited about this no-cook pasta sauce. Essentially you are making a VERY aggressive vinaigrette (which tastes Caesar-adjacent in its concentrated form) that gets mellowed out once it is tossed with the pasta, and I'm here for it. Put a pot of water on the stove and by the time it's at a boil, you'll have the sauce ready to go.
My anchovies were oil-packed rather than salt-packed, so I found I needed a little more Thai fish sauce (as well as some more lemon juice) to get it where I wanted, and you feel encouraged to tweak at the end with the permission the author gives in the headnote. I think the next time I make this spaghetti al limone Amalfitano, I'll experiment with adding a little lemon zest to the mix and try chopped arugula in place of the parsley for a little added pepperiness, but I am glad to have an easy go-to pantry meal with things I always have on hand.
Originally published May 28, 2021