I know, I know. The minute you saw “anchovies” a switch in your head turned off. Nope, nada, you can’t make me, you can’t make me. And to that, I say, “Don’t you dare make me go down there!” I used to be an anchovy hater, but over time I came to appreciate–then love–them. They add a lot of big bass notes to a dish.

And a dish as simple as this spaghetti with anchovy and lemon needs big flavors. The lemon gives this a brightness that balances the anchovies. The red pepper flakes give it heat. Now, with all that giving, won’t you give the dish a chance?–David Leite

Spaghetti with Anchovy and Lemon FAQs

What do anchovies do for a dish?

You either love ’em or hate ’em. Regardless, anchovies are valued around the world for their briny flavor and incredible versatility. Because you can easily smash them into a paste, anchovies can be stirred into dressings (think Caesar), dips (think my Green Olive Dip), and sauces, like this one or our simple pasta with anchovies and onions.

They lend a salty, wee-bite briny, meaty umami bomb of flavor to a dish. I promise you won’t find this pasta overly fishy, just alluring.

How can I make the fried breadcrumbs?

Easy. Just rip a good-size hunk of rustic bread into pieces. Pulse them in a food processor until you have coarse crumbs. Dump the crumbs into a skillet and cook over medium-high heat to dry them out and then drizzle over 2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil (depending on how much bread you used). Cook, stirring continually, until they’re golden, about 5 minutes. Season immediately with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. The breadcrumbs can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

A bowl of spaghetti with anchovy and lemon

Spaghetti with Anchovy and Lemon

4.80 / 5 votes
This is one of those recipes that is so much more than the sum of its parts, and once tried you’ll keep coming back to it. In Italy, a simple pasta dish like this would be served with a sprinkling of seasoned fried breadcrumbs (see FAQ above), but some bread on the side works just as well.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories390 kcal
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time30 minutes


  • Salt
  • 12 ounces dried spaghetti
  • 1 can (1 3/4-oz) anchovies in olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, preferably organic
  • A few sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Rustic bread, to serve (optional)


  • Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and season with salt. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, according to package directions.
  • Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, combine the anchovies and their oil, the extra virgin olive oil, and the garlic. Cook gently, prodding occasionally, until the anchovies have dissolved and the garlic is aromatic, but not burnt, about 3 minutes.
  • Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the chopped parsley and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat until the pasta is cooked.
  • Once the pasta is done, use a pair of tongs to pull the pasta from the saucepan into the anchovy pan, allowing some of the salted cooking water to go in with it.
  • Set the skillet over low heat and pull the spaghetti up and down in the pan to absorb the flavors and to help emulsify the oils with the starch of the cooking liquid.
  • Season with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes and finish with a few grates of lemon zest. Serve with rustic bread on the side, if desired.
Canned Cookbook.

Adapted From


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Serving: 1 servingCalories: 390 kcalCarbohydrates: 67 gProtein: 12 gFat: 8 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 5 gCholesterol: 1 mgSodium: 1179 mgFiber: 4 gSugar: 3 g

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

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2021 Theo A. Michaels. Photo © 2021 Mowie Kay. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This spaghetti with anchovy and lemon recipe comes together with a minimum of fuss and results in a wonderfully umami-packed pasta meal.  I know next time I’ll be adding a few toasted breadcrumbs on top, maybe adding anchovies as well, to provide a bit of texture with the same flavor profile as the pasta.  We served this with a few seared scallops on the side. It’s definitely one dish that we will make again.

Anchovies. Garlic. Lemon. Woot! What’s not to like about this spaghetti with anchovy and lemon that comes together so quickly and packs a wallop of flavor? I used linguine, a handful of parsley, and a grating of pecorino over the top when I served this. And a few grinds of black pepper. My husband’s comment was “more anchovies!”

I made it a second time with a leek I had in the fridge, and I can imagine using broccoli or even grape tomatoes. As I always do, I increased the garlic to 6 cloves from the 3 in the recipe. What can I say, I’m a garlic head! This can even be a midnight snack when I get home from work. This is the best pasta I have tested so far.

This spaghetti with anchovy and lemon is a perfect recipe for a quick and delicious weeknight dinner for two. The flavor is perfect, the lemon juice balanced the strong anchovy taste. Very easy to cook, just boiling water for the pasta, in the meantime sautéing the remaining ingredients. Excellent in flavor and consistency.

When you haven’t planned dinner and just need to throw something together, this dish fits the bill. It can be made from ingredients that you have on hand for a quick dinner. The anchovies melt into the oil and along with the lemon, make a lovely savory lemony sauce. The anchovies are not pronounced in the flavor. It is more of a lemon flavor with a background salty savory flavor from the anchovies.

I made this twice. The first time, there didn’t seem to be enough sauce with the noodles and I thought it could be better. We are always taught to boil pasta in plenty of water. But in this case, I think less is more. The second time I made it, I used much less water than I would usually use for the 11.5 ounces of pasta (I used approximately 4 cups of water). This allowed the pasta water to be much more starchy. When adding the pasta to the anchovy and lemon mixture, the starchy pasta water really helped in coating the noodles and making it much more satisfying. I also added the lemon zest and pinch of red pepper flakes into the anchovy mixture along with the lemon juice. This allowed the zest and red pepper flavors to incorporate into the 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
    This has been one of my favorite go-to’s for years. When last minute guests arrive I whip this up. Delicious