Spaghetti w/ Olives & Capers

I took a day off of work this week, which was quite exciting for me.  I got to spend some quality time with my daughter, since she was done with school for the summer.  I had been working on a summer schedule for her that included chores, reading, math problems, you know … a schedule she truly loves (said facetiously).  One thing she asked of me was to teach her how to cook.  Of course, as a self proclaimed foodie and a lover of all things cooking and food, I was quite excited.  To celebrate this occasion, I wanted to make her a dish that was not too kid friendly, but one she might like.  I guess I was making a point that if she became proficient in the art of cooking, she could make her future kids eat anything … including a dish with lots of black and green olives and anchovies.  I decided to make Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, my way.  Traditionally, this dish includes tomatoes and does not have the topping that I added; however, part of the lesson for the day was that cooking is art with which one can express oneself.  The recipe did not have to be strictly adhered to, as long as the outcome was delicious.  So, she sat in the kitchen with me as I cooked, and while we chatted about life and food.

SPAGHETTI WITH OLIVES AND CAPERS

1 lb Spaghetti
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Shallots – finely diced
4 large Garlic cloves – finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Red Chili Flakes
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
6 Anchovy fillets*oil packed
1 Red Bell Pepper – finely diced
1/2 cup White Wine
1 cup pitted & roughly chopped Black and Green Olives
2 tablespoons Capers non pareil
2 large Lemons – juiced & zested (zest is for topping)
1 ladle Salty Pasta Water
2 tablespoons Italian Parsley – finely chopped

PANKO TOPPING
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup Japanese Panko Bread Crumbs
Zest of 2 Lemons
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley – finely chopped
Chives for garnish – OPTIONAL

*You will not taste the anchovies in this dish.  They only serve to add a much needed depth of flavor.  So, even if you do not like anchovies, you most likely will still like this dish.  If you are still hesitant, either use a fewer amount of anchovy fillets or eliminate them all together. 

In a large pan on medium high heat, sauté the shallots in the olive oil.  Add the garlic, anchovies, and red chili flakes, and sauté for another minute, before adding the diced bell pepper.  Add the salt and pepper, and sauté until all the ingredients in the pan are translucent.  Be careful with the salt, as the anchovies, olives, and capers add much salt to the dish.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta.

In a pot of boiling salted water, add your dried spaghetti, and cook for about 8 minutes, before the al dente phase.  Make sure to occasionally stir the pasta to keep it from sticking.  Always reserve a couple of ladles of pasta water, in case you need them for the sauce.

While the pasta is cooking, deglaze the pan with the white wine, until it is reduced by half.  Turn the heat down to medium low, and add the lemon juice, chopped olives, and capers and stir.  Add a ladle of salty pasta water.

When the spaghetti is almost at al dente, remove it from the water, and immediately add it to the sauce.  Stir gently, then remove from the heat.  The pasta will continue to cook from the residual heat.  Add the Italian parsley, and stir gently to incorporate everything together, without breaking the delicate strands.

In a small pan, toast the Panko bread crumbs in olive oil over medium heat.  Add the lemon zest and Italian parsley, and stir to incorporate them together.  When the Panko bread crumbs are golden brown, remove them from the heat, and set them aside.  This process is pretty quick, so keep your eyes on the bread crumbs.  No one likes burnt bread crumbs.

Now, to serve.  Place the spaghetti with the olive and caper sauce gently in a serving dish.  Top the spaghetti with the golden brown bread crumbs and lemon zest topping.  Finally, sprinkle a few finely diced chives on top.  The bread crumbs add another texture to this complex dish, and the lemon zest adds a citrusy finish to enhance the delicious flavors of the Mediterranean embodied in this plate.  I hope you enjoy my take on this Spaghetti classic.  Buon Appetito!