Nigella Lawson's Spaghetti with Chard, Chilli, and Anchovies

This quick dish of Spaghetti with Chard, Chilli, and Anchovies from Nigella Lawson's BBC2 series Cook, Eat, Repeat makes for a satisfyingly flavoursome midweek meal.

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Introduction

I first ate this at a lovely restaurant, Fitzroy, in Fowey in Cornwall last Christmas, and knew that, once home, I had to make it myself. And I pretty much haven’t stopped since.

I like to use rainbow chard, chiefly, because I find myself cheered the instant I get a beautiful bunch of it in the house. It’s hard to believe it can even exist, with its ridiculously bright-hued stems – red, bright pink, orange, yellow, all jumbled together – and isn’t just the product of a nursery- schoolchild’s imagination. If I can’t get rainbow chard, I happily settle for ruby chard, the stalks almost indistinguishable from the reddest of rhubarbs. But any chard, so long as it’s tender, will do. And of course, do feel free to use cavolo nero, spinach, broccoli, beet tops or whatever else you may want, in place of the chard if you can’t get any.

While there is no point pretending that the anchovies aren’t central to this, it does seem a bit mean to give a recipe for pasta with vegetables without at least presenting a vegan-friendly alternative. I can’t quite reproduce the oomph of the anchovies, but black olives, finely chopped, are a good enough substi-tution so long as you can find those intense semi-dried ones in foil pouches or vacuum packed in jars or good unpitted olives in olive oil; the ones in brine are disappointingly lacking. Or increase the garlic and stir in a dab of Marmite. On top of that (to boost the elusive umami, and to replace the saltiness further provided by the Parmesan), you will need expansive recourse to nutritional yeast flakes and be prepared to salt the water the pasta cooks in with even more abandon than usual.

I cook the chard in what’s sometimes called a stir-fry pan – it looks rather like a wok, but has a flat bottom and comes with a lid – though any pot or pan that will have room for the spaghetti later, and which you can toss everything together in comfortably, would do. Or just use a medium-sized saucepan and toss pasta and sauce together in a warmed bowl.

I gladly make the spaghetti with chard, chilli and anchovies just for myself as well. While I concede it makes enough to serve two generously, I’m grateful for leftovers. It tastes excellent cold – especially with a little more extra-virgin olive oil and a spritz of lemon juice – even if this does sound idiosyncratic to Italians. But I dare say I have infuriated enough of them already by suggesting you grate over Parmesan or Pecorino Romano when you serve this first time out. The sacrosanct rules in Italy forbid cheese with pasta dishes that contain either a lot of garlic or fish: this is divinely abundant in both.

Serves 2, heartily
Easy

Ingredients

300g rainbow (or other) chard (and see recipe intro)
3 x 15ml tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to pour over at the end
8 anchovy fillets (from a jar or tin)
3 fat cloves of garlic
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes
125ml hot water from a just-boiled kettle
200g spaghetti
2–3 x 15ml tbsp (approx. 15–20g) freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, plus more to serve

Instructions

1. Put a large saucepan of water on for the pasta and put the kettle on to boil at the same time.

2. Strip the leaves from the stalks of chard. Roll them up and slice finely, then leave to one side. Cut the stalks into 1–2cm pieces, depending on their girth.

3. Into a large pan, add the olive oil and the anchovies, and warm slowly, stirring and pressing down on the anchovies until they seem to melt into the oil.

4. Take off the heat, peel and mince or grate in the garlic, add the chilli flakes, then put back on the heat, this time turned up to medium, and stir briefly before adding the chopped chard stalks.Turn the stalks around in the chilli-flecked anchovy oil for a minute or so to soak up the flavour.

5. Pour in the hot water – I use an American ½ cup here for ease of measuring – stir again, and bring to a bubble. Put the lid on the pan and cook at a fast simmer until the stalks are tender; this will take 5–7 minutes. If you’re cooking with larger stemmed, more robust chard, then you may need to go for 10 minutes.

6. When the pasta water has come to the boil, salt it – it will rise up excitedly. Once it’s calmed down again, drop in your spaghetti and cook according to the packet instructions, though start checking a couple of minutes before it says.

7. Add the shredded chard leaves to the stalks in their pan, give a good stir, replace the lid, and leave them to wilt in the hot pan. This could take anything from 2–4 minutes. Once they’re ready, turn the heat off under the pan, keeping the lid on, while you wait for the pasta.

8. Use a pasta fork or tongs to add the cooked spaghetti straight to the waiting pan of chard. It doesn’t matter if the pasta is dripping with water, as that starchy liquid will help thicken your sauce. Turn the spaghetti well in the chard and anchovy mixture; you may need to add up to 4 tablespoons (60ml) of cooking water as you toss everything together; go slowly, and stop when the chard seems to turn into a sauce that cleaves to the strands of spaghetti.

9. Grate over about 2 tablespoons’ worth of Parmesan or Pecorino Romano and toss again, then give a generous pour of olive oil, and do likewise. Taste to see if you want more cheese or oil, and proceed accordingly, then turn into a warmed bowl or bowls, and bring the cheese, a grater and the bottle of olive oil to the table with you.

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