Coming back from vacation is tough. No matter how good it feels to be home, it also feels kind of bad.
One day you’re lolling on the beach or body surfing off the coast of Oahu or enjoying a coconut cocktail at the famously pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The next day you’re wading through an ocean of laundry and e-mails, and piles of bills.
Yep, vacation is over.
It helps when there is something to soften the blow. My husband’s aunt and uncle knew this, so whenever they went on vacation they always flew coach on the way to their destination and first class on the way back.
Alas, such luxury is beyond our budget. Instead, we have what we call our “re-entry” dish — the first thing we cook when we return from a trip. It is almost always the same: Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Acciughe, or Spaghetti With Garlic, Oil and Anchovies.
It’s easy to make, (relatively) economical and can be assembled entirely from ingredients in the pantry.
This has been our ritual since my husband and I were newlyweds nearly two decades ago, and one that both our kids have embraced — even our daughter, Adriana, who professes not to like anchovies. The key, of course, is to use the best anchovies you can find.
Good anchovy fillets taste nothing like the mealy, fishy gray ones that have turned millions of people into anchovy haters. Good anchovies are meaty and salty and savory. Bound together with olive oil, garlic and a dollop of tomato paste, the anchovies turn a simple dish of spaghetti into a richly flavored bowl of late-summer comfort.
My favorite anchovies are Rizzoli alici in salsa piccante. The fillets bathed in a savory, slightly spicy tomato and tuna sauce. These are not easy to come by. When I was growing up, my mother would always stock up on them during trips to Italy. She would pack dozens of tins in our suitcases. Throughout the year, she would regulate how often to open a new tin, in order to ensure that the supply lasted until our next trip.
The only source I know of this side of Italy is San Francisco-based A.G. Ferrari, which sells them at $14.99 for a 3.2-ounce tin; highly expensive, I know, but a luxury I can’t bring myself to give up. In their absence, you can use other good-quality anchovy fillets in olive oil. (Two brands I like are Scalia, from Italy, and Ortiz, imported from Spain.)
Serve this savory, slightly spicy pasta dish with a green salad, or with sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, and a glass of chilled Italian white, such as Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi.
Domenica Marchetti is the author of “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” (Chronicle, June 2011) as well as “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy” (Chronicle, 2006) and “Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style” (Chronicle 2008). She blogs at DomenicaCooks.com.
Here is an example of poor man’s cooking at its best. Luckily, good olive oil and good anchovies — both required here — are not as expensive or hard to find as they used to be.
From “The Glorious Pasta of Italy,” by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle Books, 2011).
16 ounces dried spaghetti
Kosher or sea salt, for the cooking water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
8 best-quality imported Italian or Spanish anchovy fillets in olive oil, preferably Rizzoli brand alici in salsa picante (see headnote)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 small red chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped (may substitute a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes)
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat, then salt the water generously. Add the pasta, stir to separate the noodles and cook according to the package directions (until al dente).
Meanwhile, heat the oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium-low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Add the anchovies and their oil (about 2 tablespoons) and use a fork to mash them up a bit, though there should still be some distinguishable pieces. Stir in the tomato paste and chili pepper to form a sauce. Cook for another minute or two, or until all of the ingredients are well blended. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.
Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water.
Transfer the pasta to the skillet; gently toss the pasta and sauce until thoroughly combined. Add a splash or two of the cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce and prevent the spaghetti strands from becoming sticky.
Transfer the dressed pasta to warmed individual shallow bowls; serve immediately.