For pasta, reaching deeper into a pantry pays off.

Most pantry pasta recipes assume that you have a pretty bare larder. Made entirely from ingredients you’re likely to have on hand, the recipes are usually some minimalist combination of garlic, olive oil, bread crumbs, chui

flakes, and possibly anchovies or Parmesan, or both. Delicious, absolutely, but not reflective of the breadth of even a moderately well-stocked pantry.

This pantry pasta is different: It asks you to reach deeper into your cupboard and fridge, unearthing olives, a couple of onions and that bunch of parsley, spinach or arugula (wilted is fine) you probably have somewhere in there. You’ll also need some butter and a lemon.

The salty tang of black olives counters the sweetness of caramelized onions. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times.

These extra ingredients build flavour, adding a gentle sweetness from the onion that matches the salty tang of olives. The herbs lend freshness, while the butter enriches and the lemon brightens.

And none of the ingredients is hard to procure should your pantry come up short on one. Either swing by the store on the way home, or substitute something you already have. Anything salty and briny can stand in for the olives — capers and canned tuna, for example. If you don’t have a fresh lemon, a dash of vinegar works nearly as well.

Even with the additional ingredients, this dish is still fast and convenient enough for any given weeknight, which, when it comes to pantry pastas, is exactly what you’re after.

A final grating of Parmesan is a must for any pasta. Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times.

The most time-consuming part is sautéing the onions until they’re golden and soft. This can take as little as 20 minutes or as long as 30, depending on how large your pan is and how high the heat is. If the onions seem to be taking forever — or if you’re really, really hungry — crank up the flame and stir them a lot. Just don’t turn your back, or they may burn. Getting them dark brown is perfectly fine, but even a few black shards will make the whole pan taste bitter, so don’t stray too far from the stove.

While the onions cook, you can boil your pasta. I routinely splurge on pasta because even though it may seem a little crazy to pay upward of $6 for a bag of spaghetti, I can really taste the difference. The texture can be a lot better, too, with a firmer, meatier bite. But use whatever you’ve got in your pantry. After all, isn’t that point?

Spicy Spaghetti With Caramelised Onions and Herbs

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Total time: 45 minutes


Kosher salt, as needed

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large white or Spanish onions, halved and very thinly sliced

340 grams of spaghetti

6 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon chilli paste or flakes, or to taste

2 anchovies, chopped (optional)

1 cup chopped mix of parsley and basil (or use all parsley)

1/3 cup chopped cured Moroccan or other intensely flavoured black olives


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Lemon wedges, for squeezing

Grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)


1. Put a large pot of heavily salted water on and let it come to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, cook the onions: Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and pale golden at the edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Lower heat if the edges start to brown too quickly or raise heat if onions aren’t turning golden quickly enough.

3. When the water comes to a boil, cook spaghetti according to package directions until just al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain pasta.

4. Thinly slice 4 garlic cloves, and stir into golden onions, along with chilli flakes. Continue to cook until onions are a rich brown, about 10 minutes longer. If the garlic starts to burn, lower the heat.

5. Finely grate remaining garlic cloves, and mash into anchovies using the flat side of your knife. Move some of the onion mixture to the side of the pan and add anchovy paste to bare spot in the pan. Cook paste for 1 minute, then add herbs and olives, stir everything together, and cook another 1 minute.

6. Stir in cooked pasta, butter, and salt to taste, tossing to coat pasta. Add pasta water if it looks dry. Serve with a generous squeeze of lemon, and sprinkle with Parmesan and more chilli on top, if desired.

And to Drink…

Precision pairing is not easy with this dish. The sweetness and almost smoky notes of the onions might call for a Chenin blanc or chardonnay, particularly barrel-aged versions. Piquant olives and anchovies need something more incisive, a fino sherry, perhaps.

You could certainly try any of these wines, and I think they would be enjoyable. Finding a wine that bridges all of these flavours is a little more difficult. My first thought would be of a broader style of riesling, from Alsace or Austria, which I think would work fairly well. You could also try a richer Fiano di Avellino from the Campania or a barrel-aged Soave from the Veneto. Steer clear of reds. ERIC ASIMOV

Melissa Clark has been a columnist for the Food section since 2007. She reports on food trends, creates recipes and appears in cooking videos linked to her column, A Good Appetite. She has also written dozens of cookbooks. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook here.

Melissa Clark/Andrew Scrivani, © 2020 THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Feature image: Supplied/The New York Times.

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