don’t hold the anchovies…

One of the jobs I had while in college was as a doorman for the Holiday Inn at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. My sister-in-law Alicia was the executive secretary and she recommended me for the position. I was only 19 when I started and I really enjoyed working there.  Not only did I have a great experience, I also made many wonderful friends.

Although I didn’t have any previous experience as an actual doorman, I knew a few things about opening doors since I’ve done that many times before.  To date, the job was the least stressful and most fun I’ve had. I only worked four days a week: Thursday and Fridays from 2 PM to 10 PM, Saturdays and Sundays from 7 AM to 3 PM.

One of the perks of working as a doorman in San Francisco was the comped dinners at local restaurants.  In return for this gesture, I would gladly recommend their restaurants to the guests staying at our hotel.

The hotel provided us with good food when we worked.  However, as a starving student who lived on his own, I looked forward to the free meals bestowed upon me.

The Stinking Rose, a garlic-inspired restaurant on North Beach, was a favorite haunt of mine. As an impressionable youth with a strong affinity for the smelly bulb, I did not hesitate sending people over any chance I got. Sure, there were seafood joints in every corner of the Wharf, but The Stinking Rose was special indeed.

It was there where I first tried a bagna cauda—-an Italian warm “dip”, similar to a fondue. Literally meaning “hot bath”, it contained tons of garlic, butter, olive oil, wine, and anchovies. I know many people crinkle their noses when they hear anchovies, but they add the necessary saltiness and the depth the bagna cauda required. Without it, the whole thing would be just a greasy glop.

Being the frugal person that I am, I would bring home any leftovers I had, no matter how small the portions were.

One evening, tired from work and still hungry, I looked in my refrigerator for something to eat. To my dismay, all I had was the leftover bagna cauda from two nights before. Typically served with vegetables and crusty bread, I had nothing to dip it with.

I frantically searched by sparse cupboard and all I had were boxed pasta. My “a-ha” moment came when I realized the bagna cauda would make an excellent sauce for my spaghetti noodles.

Since then, I make my “pasta con acciughe.” What began as a humble dish during my lean times, it has evolved into one of my favorite comfort dishes.

The recipe itself is really simple: lots of garlic, anchovies, wine, butter, and olive oil. These items are a pantry staple for me so whenever I need something quick (and delicious) to eat, I can always make it. I’ve experimented with adding different ingredients such as wild mushrooms, onions, pepper flakes, or cream, but the original remains the best. The only thing I include now is Italian parsley to enhance the taste and give some visual interest.

Tonight, I made some to celebrate the fact that I am home and able to make dinner for myself. After a couple of rough months of endless work, I was able to enjoy a simple, elegant homemade meal. Served with garlicky crostini and shaved Parmagiano-Reggiano, I was in heaven.

Who cares about the garlic AND. fishy breath?

Rigati Con Acciughe

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