Known in the home kitchens along Venetian canals simply as salsa, this ancient recipe comprises minimal ingredients found in most Italian home pantries. It’s 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

david caricature

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.”

What You’ll Need to Make This

  • 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.

Common Questions

What is the benefit of eating canned fish?

Like fruits and vegetables, fish has a season 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.

Canned 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, Italy, and my beloved Portugal 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—canned fish requires no refrigeration, tin is easy to recycle and cheaper to transport, and you’re not paying extra for out-of-season fish. Best of all, canned fish a quick addition to almost any meal.

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.

Ok. So what’s “al dente”?

Fair enough. “Al dente” is just a fancy Italian cooking phrase that means “to the tooth.” In other words, pasta that’s cooked perfectly so it’s still a bit firm when you bite into it, rather than limp or mushy. Al dente pasta has a bit of chewiness to it, which people, including myself, find pleasant.

The easiest way to get a sense of al dente pasta is to bite into it. Long pasta, such as spaghetti, will have a tiny white dot in the middle, which means it’s almost cooked through. Voilá–al dente.

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 on the side. 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 and absorb the sauce when added back to the pan.
  • Save a bit of your pasta water in a jar with a screw-on top 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 the leftover cooking water (or tap water) to loosen the pasta.

More Great Canned Fish Pasta Recipes

Write a Review

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

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

Pasta with Anchovies and Onions

5 / 7 votes
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.
David Leite
Servings2 servings
Calories435 kcal
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time20 minutes


  • 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


  • Bring a large 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.
  • 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.


  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.

Adapted From

The Magic of Tinned Fish

Buy On Amazon


Serving: 1 servingCalories: 435 kcalCarbohydrates: 28 gProtein: 13 gFat: 30 gSaturated Fat: 15 gMonounsaturated Fat: 11 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 68 mgSodium: 1333 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 1 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2021 Chris McDade. Photo © 2021 Dana Gallagher. All rights reserved.

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 your 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 breadcrumbs 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.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  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.