Spaghetti with Walnuts and Anchovies (30 Minute Dinner)

overhead of linguine with a walnut and anchovie sauce, garnished with fresh basil

I'm not overstating when I tell you this spaghetti with walnuts and anchovies is one of the easiest pasta dishes you'll ever make.  It relies on very few ingredients, and, BONUS, these are all ingredients you'll most likely already have on hand.  And that means you won't have to make any last-minute stops at the market. Plus it comes together in a very quick 30 minutes!

This pasta has the crunch of toasted walnuts, a deep umami flavor from the anchovies, and a kick of spice from the chili flakes that all combine to create a dish with big bold flavors. This dish is a perfect example of how a few simple ingredients can create an incredibly flavored dish. 

This easy recipe starts with cooking your pasta in a large pot of water.  Flavor tip: Before adding your pasta to the boiling water, generously salt it.  When you taste the water it should taste like the sea.  Pasta relies on salted water and sauce for flavor, so don't forget to salt your water.  A tip my mom taught me to ensure the pasta is cooked to al dente (you want there to be a little "bite" to the pasta), is to cook the pasta 3 minutes less than the suggested time on the package.  

While the pasta cooks, assemble all your ingredients for the sauce.  The beauty of this dish is the sauce comes together quickly, so timing is important.  You want the pasta and sauce to be finished at the same time, so start making your sauce when the pasta has about 5 minutes left. You're going to be adding the pasta to the sauce, so use a large heavy skillet or large sauté pan to ensure you have plenty of room for the pasta AND the sauce.

Next, extra virgin olive oil gets warmed over medium heat in your large skillet. Once you can easily swirl the oil around, add the garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, and chopped walnuts. This next step only takes a minute or two, so keep watch because walnuts will burn the second you turn your attention away from them. When you smell the walnuts (they should be starting to turn golden brown), add the anchovy paste (or anchovy fillets) and stir for a couple of minutes until the anchovy paste/anchovies melt into the olive oil.  If you've finished your sauce and the pasta isn't finished, keep the sauce warm over low heat.

Now a couple of tips for your pasta: to ensure your pasta is infused with the flavor of any sauce, add your drained pasta straight into the skillet with your sauce. Then toss both together until the sauce thoroughly coats the pasta. If you add your pasta straight to a bowl and top with sauce you won't get as much flavor throughout the pasta.  

Before you start cooking, let's talk anchovies. I know what you're probably thinking...... "aren't the anchovies going to make the sauce taste fishy, like an anchovy sauce?" And my answer to you is "absolutely not!" Anchovies are the secret sauce for adding gorgeous deep, rich umami salty flavor to a dish.  And that umami flavor will make you return for bite after bite, and you'll quickly polish off your bowl and go back for seconds. Now, if you're squeamish about whole anchovies, you can easily add anchovy paste. But, promise me you won't skip the anchovies....ok? They melt into the sauce so your kids (and you) won't be able to see them.

Overhead shot of ingredients on a marble counter

Time for FAQs!

What kind of pasta can I use?

Any pasta you like! Spaghetti, penne, rigatoni, fusilli all will work!

Do I really need to use anchovies?

YES!! Unless you or someone in your family is allergic, you absolutely need to use anchovies. They're a great pantry staple, so I highly recommend you always have a jar on hand.....or a tube of anchovy paste. If you like Caesar salad, you've eaten anchovies before. Trust me, you'll love the flavor they add!

Can I substitute something else for anchovies?

If you're reading this at 6 p.m. and need to get dinner on the table ASAP, but don't have anchovies, then, yes, you can substitute a splash of fish sauce or a spoonful of white miso. But, if you're reading this in the morning or afternoon and have time to run to the store and buy anchovy paste (or a jar of anchovies), I definitely recommend doing that!

How can I spice it up?

Feel free to be generous with the chili flakes if you want more heat. You can also add an extra clove (or 2) of garlic or freshly ground black pepper.

How can I thicken the sauce?

Place a glass measuring cup next to the pot of boiling water as the pasta cooks.  This will remind you to remove a cup of the pasta water before draining the cooked pasta.  I find if I don't put the measuring glass next to the pot, I forget!  The pasta cooking water will make an even glossier sauce that will coat every bit of your pasta.  

Can I use other nuts instead of walnuts?

Pine nuts would be a great substitute.  Keep a careful eye as they cook in the skillet because they tend to burn much more quickly because of their high oil content.

Other ways to elevate this dish:

Garnish with lemon zest or squeeze fresh lemon juice over the finished dish.  Fresh parsley, grated Parmesan or pecorino romano cheese are also delicious garnishes. 

What should I serve with this?

I'm always a huge fan of a simple green salad, especially with pasta dinners. A radicchio or butter lettuce tossed with a simple lemon vinaigrette would be delicious. Add some shredded carrots or cherry tomatoes for a little extra color and pop of flavor. Fun idea: my kids always ate their carrots in salads when they were shredded, not chopped.

If you're craving carbs, here are some other tasty dinner options:

Pasta Alla Vodka

Pasta with Chicken Meatballs

Pasta Primavera

overhead of linguine with a walnut and anchovie sauce, garnished with fresh basil

Spaghetti with Walnuts and Anchovies

Spaghetti is tossed with a flavorful sauce of toasted walnuts, plenty of garlic, some red pepper flakes and, for gorgeous umami flavor, some anchovy paste. A 30 minute dinner loaded with flavor that will be your new favorite dish!
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Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: easy pasta dinner, pasta dinner, weeknight dinner
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 package of your favorite pasta -- I'd recommend spaghetti, orecchiette, or fusilli
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic , minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 8 high quality anchovies, finely chopped OR 1 1/2 tablespoons anchovy paste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Fill a large pot with water for the pasta and bring it to a boil.
  • While you wait for it to boil, assemble the ingredients for the sauce: olive oil, garlic, chili pepper, walnuts, anchovies (or paste) and lemon juice. The sauce will come together quickly, so assembling the ingredients now will save time.
  • When the water boils, generously salt and add the pasta.
  • Cook pasta according to package directions, minus 3 minutes for perfect al dente pasta.
  • The sauce will only take about 5 minutes, so start the sauce when there are 5 minutes left on the pasta cooking time.
  • In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the garlic, chili flakes and walnuts and toast for about 3-5 minutes. Adjust the heat and lower it to prevent the garlic from browning. You want it to gently simmer, so adjust heat accordingly.
  • Add the anchovies (or paste).
  • If using anchovies, press them down into the sauce with the back of a wooden spoon. They will melt into the sauce, so keep pressing until they are fully incorporated. This should only take a minute or two. If you finish this step and your pasta is still cooking, remove your skillet from the heat and set aside. When you're ready to add the pasta water and then the pasta, place it back on low to medium heat to warm it.
  • When the pasta is finished cooking BEFORE DRAINING, scoop out 1 cup of pasta water into a glass measuring cup. The pasta water will help bring the sauce together and coat your pasta. Drain the pasta and return to the pot, drizzle with olive oil and add a couple tablespoons of butter (this will prevent the pasta from sticking together).
  • ANOTHER OPTION FOR THE PASTA: You can also use tongs to transfer pasta straight from the pot directly to the sauté pan. There should be enough water on the pasta to help the sauce, but save some of the pasta water in case you need to add a bit more. If you do it this way, be sure to turn off the heat on your stove first.
  • Carefully stir the pasta water into the sauce. The starch in the water will help the sauce coat the pasta and create a beautiful glossy sauce.
  • Using tongs, add the pasta to the saucepan , and toss with the sauce until it's fully coated with the sauce. The pasta should look gorgeous and glossy.
  • Add the lemon juice, and toss a few more times over low heat.
  • Serve garnished with some parsley, and with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
  • You can also drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the top because, well, why not?
Have you made this recipe?I'd love to know! Leave a comment or recipe rating and tag me @amenuforyou on social media!

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