Pasta with Anchovies and Onions

Pasta with anchovies and onions is full of omega-3 and umami-rich little fishes. And it’s faster than fast, making it doable even on a hectic weeknight. It’s protein-rich but doesn’t skimp on carbs or cheese, and the satiating taste will make you appreciate how easy it is to pull together.

A white bowl full of buctini pasta, covered with grated cheese and parsley.

Adapted from Chris McDade | The Magic of Tinned Fish | Artisan, 2021

Known in the home kitchens along Venetian canals simply as salsa, this ancient recipe comprises minimal ingredients found in most Italian home pantries. It is traditionally eaten on fasting or meatless days as a way to show sorrow for your sins, but it is now enjoyed year-round in osterias all over the region.–Chris McDade


Why our testers loved this

Our testers really appreciated that this quick and easy pasta meal comes together with just a handful of pantry staples.

Annie A. joined in with her comment, “This is such a lovely pasta dish; simple, just rich enough, and really nice for a summer night.”

Notes on ingredients

  • Pasta–We like bucatini for its long shape and large surface area, perfect for soaking up the delicious sauce, but any long shape such as spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine will work here.
  • Unsalted butter–We recommend using unsalted butter here, if possible. The anchovies and Parmesan both deliver plenty of salt.
  • Anchovy fillets–If your supermarket doesn’t carry anchovy fillets, you can substitute 2 teaspoons of anchovy paste.

How to make this recipe

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with 2 teaspoons of salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the package directions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, gently sizzle the garlic in 1 tablespoon of butter and the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion and continue to cook until the onion is soft.
  3. Splash 1/3 cup of pasta water and the anchovies into the onion mixture and bring to a boil. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet and cook until the liquid is reduced.
  4. Stir in the remaining butter. Remove the pasta from the heat and finish with the Parmesan, parsley, and lemon juice, stirring until everything is well mixed.

Recipe FAQs

What is the benefit of eating canned fish?

Like fruit and veg, fish has a season and a time when it’s at its best. What do you do the rest of the time? Tinned fish is an affordable, high-quality way to make a healthy and exceptional dinner.

Tinned fish is harvested and preserved at the peak of quality and flavor. It’s more economical than fresh seafood, stores easily in your pantry, and comes recommended by medical experts as one of the world’s most nutrient-packed foods. You know what you’re getting when there are only one or two ingredients on the label.

There are many, many countries that rely on tinned fish (Spain, Portugal, and Italy come to mind…) for those out-of-season cravings and omega-3 rich dinners. And if you’re a bit of a greenie, think of it this way—smaller portions mean less food waste, they require no refrigeration, tin is easy to recycle and cheaper to transport, and you’re not paying for fish out-of-season. And just in general, they’re a quick addition to most meals.

What’s the secret to cooking perfect pasta?

The key to cooking perfect pasta is to make sure you don’t cook it past al dente, save some pasta water, and be sure to finish cooking your pasta in the sauce.

What should I serve this with?

Our testers enjoyed this as a light meal with simple vegetable sides, such as a crisp fennel salad or roasted cauliflower alongside. A loaf of garlic bread would also make a nice side.

Helpful tips

  • To zhuzh up your pasta, sprinkle toasted bread crumbs or panko over the top of the finished dish.
  • Take care to only boil the pasta until al dente as it will continue to cook when added back to the sauce.
  • Save your pasta water for reheating leftovers.
  • Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Rewarm in a saucepan over low heat, adding a splash of water or leftover cooking water to loosen the pasta.

More great canned fish pasta recipes

☞ If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David

Pasta with Anchovies and Onions

A white bowl full of buctini pasta, covered with grated cheese and parsley.
I hope that my approach to tinned fish will give you new ideas for the tins stacked in your pantry. Pasta is a perfect base for tinned anchovies and onions, and I've used Parmesan, lemon, and parsley to highlight the outstanding umami flavor of one of my go-to fishes, anchovies.

Prep 20 mins
Cook 25 mins
Total 45 mins
Mains
Italian
2 servings
435 kcal
5 / 5 votes
Print RecipeBuy the The Magic of Tinned Fish cookbook

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Ingredients 

  • 6 ounces bucatini or other long pasta of your choice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion sliced 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick
  • 8 anchovy fillets (or substitute 2 teaspoons anchovy paste)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions
 

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat for the pasta. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, stirring every 2 minutes. Taste a noodle a minute or so before the end of the suggested cooking time to ensure that your pasta comes out al dente.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium skillet combine the garlic, 1 tablespoon of butter, and the olive oil. Warm over low heat until the garlic becomes fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add the onion and increase the heat to medium. Cook, giving the skillet a toss every other minute and reducing the heat if the butter begins to brown, until the onions are soft, about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to low.
  • Just before it’s time to remove the pasta from the boiling water, add 1/3 cup (80 ml) of the pasta water and the anchovies to the onion mixture and bring it to an aggressive simmer.
  • Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet. Continue cooking, constantly stirring and flipping, until about 3 tablespoons of liquid remain in the skillet, about 3 minutes.
  • Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and remove from the heat. Add the Parmesan, parsley, and lemon juice and stir until fully incorporated.
  • Divvy the pasta between two bowls and serve with more Parmesan, if desired.
Print RecipeBuy the The Magic of Tinned Fish cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Notes

  1. Top with bread crumbs–To zhuzh up your pasta, sprinkle toasted bread crumbs or panko over the top of the finished dish.
  2. Don’t overcook your pasta–Take care to only boil the pasta until al dente as it will continue to cook when added back to the sauce.
  3. Pasta water–Save your pasta water for reheating leftovers.
  4. Storage–Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Rewarm in a saucepan over low heat, adding a splash of water or leftover cooking water to loosen the pasta.

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 435kcal (22%)Carbohydrates: 28g (9%)Protein: 13g (26%)Fat: 30g (46%)Saturated Fat: 15g (94%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 68mg (23%)Sodium: 1333mg (58%)Potassium: 145mg (4%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Vitamin A: 839IU (17%)Vitamin C: 6mg (7%)Calcium: 179mg (18%)Iron: 2mg (11%)

#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

The only problem with this pasta with anchovies and onions is that we had no leftovers when we finished…so in other words, it was a HIT.

This is such a lovely pasta dish; simple, just rich enough, and really nice for a summer night–due to the gentle approach this recipe takes in cooking the ingredients, and because it’s done so quickly (and doesn’t have time to overheat your kitchen!)

This recipe also gives you small portions, meaning, it’s the perfect thing to serve up when the weather’s hot and you aren’t sure how hungry you are. (Although after eating a bite of this, you might wish you’d doubled the recipe!) Definitely a make-again dish for me.

This simple pasta with anchovies and onions dish for two comes together fairly quickly from pantry and staple ingredients. It’s a good recipe to have in the culinary repertoire. Now that bucatini is available again, it’s a great shape to hold up to the rest of the ingredients.

When I’ve had similar preparations before, they’ve had toasted breadcrumbs added in at the end, and this would be a great use of homemade bread crumbs if you have them on hand. (I didn’t this time around but am filing that idea away for next time.) We had the pasta with a green salad and baked orange cauliflower in cheese sauce.

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Simple and delish, perfect amount for two with no leftovers. My timing was a little off, bucatini cooks fast so it was ready too soon. Not a deal breaker but getting the hot wet pasta immediately in the pan would have been nice. Next time will start the pasta and onion/anchovies at the same time. Keeper.

    1. Thanks, lowandslow. We so appreciate you taking the time to comment. We can’t wait to hear what you try next.

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