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  • Writer's pictureLexi Mestas

Perfect Pantry Pasta - Zio Rio

This time two years ago I was celebrating my graduation from The American University of Rome's Master of Arts in Food Studies on the Amalfi coast with loads of prosecco, tanning, and a good book. Things are obviously quite different today but my work since graduation has set me up for quarantine cooking success. Working in urban food access and education, I've taken to using some of the tips I provide for my participants and partners - pantry stable items can be healthy, delicious, and save us money at the same time! So, to satisfy that itch for an Italian lunch by the water with pasta and white wine, I've recreated Il Pirata's Zio Rio to fit a limited budget & use pantry-staples to help us make fewer trips to the grocery store during this time. Easy, quick, and delicious!

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes (20 if using prepared breadcrumbs)

Total time: 55 minutes (35 if using prepared breadcrumbs)

Serves: 2


- 3/4 cup breadcrumbs, toasted

-If homemade:

- 2 cups cubed bread (French, Focaccia, Ciabatta, or any hearty bread)

- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

- 1/2 tsp thyme

- 1/2 tsp garlic powder

- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

- 1/4 tsp black pepper

- 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for salting water

- 2 anchovy filets

- 4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

- 1/2 lemon, juiced

- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or butter

- 2 cups pasta water, reserved



1. If making your own breadcrumbs, preheat the oven to 375 F. Toss cubed bread with tbsp olive oil, thyme, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and salt. Bake for 20 minutes until a deep brown color. Pulse on high in a food process or blender until the bread is reduced to fine breadcrumbs. Reserve.

2. If using prepared breadcrumbs, pulse on high in a food process with thyme, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and salt for 5 seconds until spices are incorporated and reduced to fine grains. Toast in a large skillet on medium-high heat until golden brown. Reserve.

3. In a large skillet on medium heat, add 2 tbsp olive oil or butter and anchovies. Constantly moving the anchovies, they will melt into a paste. Add garlic and stir constantly until golden brown. Reduce heat to low.

4. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Salt your water like the ocean - about 3 tbsp. Add spaghetti and boil until its cooked al dente. Reserve 2 cups of pasta water.

5. Remove pasta from pasta water and place immediately into your skillet with anchovies and garlic - toss to coat. Return to medium heat, add lemon juice and 31 cup of reserved pasta water. Continuously swirl your pasta as a sauce thickens and begins to cling to your pasta. If it evaporates too quickly, add 1 more cup of pasta water and continue swirling until the sauce is thick, clinging to the pasta. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil or butter and swirl to combine.

6. Top with breadcrumbs and serve immediately.

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