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St Joseph’s Pasta ~ Spaghetti with Anchovies and Breadcrumbs

St Joseph's Pasta in green platter with parsley garnish.
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St Joseph’s Pasta is a simple but delicious combination of spaghetti with toasted breadcrumbs, anchovies, capers, olives, garlic and parsley. Affordable, easy to make and ready in less than thirty minutes, this dish is most often made on March 19th to honor the feast day of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of Sicily.

St Joseph's Pasta in green platter with parsley garnish and small bowl of breadcrumbs in background.

This umami powerhouse of a pasta has humble Sicilian origins. Full of flavor with the perfect briny and salty bite, you’re going to love this super-easy recipe.

For a few other dishes inspired by the flavors of la cucina Siciliana, check out Pasta with Cauliflower, Eggplant Meatballs, Trapanese Tomato Almond Pesto, Calamari Potato and Peas, Pasta with Tuna Sauce and Bucatini with Slow-Roasted Eggplant, Tomatoes and Ricotta, which is similar to the classic pasta alla norma,

What is St. Joseph’s Day and What is its Significance?

St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th, is the feast day of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of Sicily. It’s also Father’s Day all over Italy.

Catholic legend has it that during a terrible drought in Sicily many centuries ago, villagers prayed to St. Joseph to intercede on their behalf. Their prayers were answered and the rain came, saving the spring crops from destruction and preventing a widespread famine in Sicily. After the harvest, the people celebrated with a special feast of thanksgiving dedicated to the saint and to share with the poor, and this celebration became an annual tradition. Each year, wealthy families prepared huge buffets, which became known as the Tavola di San Giuseppe, or the Table of Saint Joseph. The less fortunate people of the community, especially the homeless and sick, were invited, and all the remaining food and proceeds were given to the poor.

St. Joseph’s Day continues to be a very special day in the Italian culture and also amongst much of the Italian American community, especially those of Sicilian descent.

And, food continues to be at the heart of this special day.

St Joseph's Pasta in green platter with parsley garnish.

Saint Joseph’s Day Pasta

One of the traditional pasta dishes eaten on this day is this St Josephs Pasta. It goes by many names including pasta di San Giuseppe, pasta ca’ muddicca, pasta con la millica, sawdust pasta, carpenter’s pasta and pasta mollicata. It’s a humble combination of spaghetti, anchovies and breadcrumbs– anchovies because this holiday always falls during Lent and breadcrumbs as they are symbolic of the sawdust left after a carpenter’s hard day of work, since St. Joseph was a carpenter by trade.⁠ (Breadcrumbs were also considered the poor man’s cheese back in Sicily when grated cheese was not available or affordable.)

This is one of the most simple pasta dishes out there, and almost entirely made with pantry staples that are shelf-stable.

Although I’ve been making the basic version of this recipe for years, I recently amped up its flavor and texture quite a bit by simply adding two more typical Sicilian ingredients to it–capers and oil-cured, black olives–adding loads of umami and balancing out the flavors with bite, acidity and brininess.

Plus, I’ve simplified the already simple technique. Rather than toast the breadcrumbs separately and toss them with the cooked pasta and anchovy sauce at the end, the breadcrumbs essentially become the sauce to which the hot spaghetti is added.

In other words, if you don’t count the pot of boiling water, this is a one skillet pasta. And, basically, one step.

This makes it not only a very easy dish to enjoy on Saint Joseph’s Day, but also on busy, menu-heavy Christmas Eve as part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, or any random Tuesday night at the last minute. It will be ready in the time it takes to cook your pasta. I think that is something that we can all get on board with. Enjoy!

St Joseph's Pasta in green platter with parsley garnish.

Ingredients for St Joseph’s Pasta

⁠Here are the ingredients we will be using in this pasta with breadcrumbs recipe:

  • Breadcrumbs: Use plain (unseasoned) fine breadcrumbs for this recipe. I don’t recommend panko breadcrumbs in this dish, but homemade breadcrumbs would be great!
  • Pasta: Spaghetti or mafalda is the classic pasta for this dish, but it is still really great with almost any long pasta shape, such as linguine, bucatini or capellini.
  • Anchovies: The anchovies are present in this recipe as St Josephs Day always falls during meat-free lent. Plus, they are the flavor foundation for this simple pasta dish. In fact, you can even double the amount for a more powerful flavor!
  • Capers and Olives: While not typical ingredients in this traditional recipe, I added both capers and olives to up the overall flavor and texture of the dish, while still staying true to its Sicilian roots. Both these ingredients are quintessential in Sicilian cuisine and complement the rest of the dish so beautifully, adding loads of umami and balancing out the flavors with bite, acidity and brininess.
  • Garlic and Fresh Parsley: Both are important aromatics in the recipe. If you don’t have any fresh parsley, I recommend just omitting it and not substituting dried parsley. Parsley also adds a nice brightness to the dish as a final garnish as well. I don’t recommend basil for this recipe.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Used to sauté all the main ingredients and moisten the breadcrumbs. The amount of oil may seem high in the recipe, but it works-trust me! Having said this, you can always cut it back if you would like.

Ingredients for St Joseph's Pasta.

How to Make St Joseph’s Pasta, with Pro-Tips!

Here are the main steps for making St Josephs Day Pasta:

  • Prep and gather all ingredients. Put a large pot of water on to boil.

  • Combine olive oil, capers, olives, anchovies and anchovy oil, garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes in a large skillet over medium low heat and cook until the anchovies have dissolved and the garlic has lightly browned and become fragrant, about 4 to 5 minutes.
    • PRO-TIP: Break up the anchovies with a wooden spoon, if necessary, to help them dissolve.
Olives, capers, anchovies, parsley, garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil in pan.
Olives, capers, anchovies, parsley, garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil mixed together and cooking in pan.
  • Then, add the breadcrumbs and black pepper to the skillet and stir well to combine. Stir until the mixture becomes crumbly; it should have the consistency of wet sand.

  • Cook until the breadcrumbs are toasted, about 2 to 3 minutes.
    • PRO-TIP: Add a little more olive oil if the mixture seems excessively dry.
Adding breadcrumbs to anchovy mixture in pan.
Finished breadcrumbs up close on spoon.

  • Turn the heat off and remove about half the breadcrumb mixture and set it aside.
    • PRO-TIP: You will use these later on in the process to top off the finished dish and for guests to sprinkle over their individual plates like “grated cheese”.

  • Meanwhile, once the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, according to the package instructions.
    • PRO-TIP: You don’t need to add salt to the pasta water since there is already so much salt in the anchovies, capers and olives.
    • PRO-TIP: Also, this is not a traditional pasta sauce in which the pasta will finish cooking. As such, cook the pasta until a full al dente in the boiling water before combining it with the breadcrumb mixture.

Transferring half of the finished breadcrumbs to a small bowl for later in recipe.
Cooking spaghetti in boiling water in large pot.
  • Once the pasta is al dente, transfer it to the skillet with the breadcrumbs and increase the heat to medium, mainly to cook off any moisture.
    • PRO-TIP: Add only a small amount of pasta water if needed to help coat the spaghetti with the breadcrumb mixture (¼ cup at the most).

  • Once the spaghetti has been well-coated and tossed with the breadcrumbs, turn off the heat and mix in the remaining chopped parsley.
Adding spaghetti to breadcrumb mixture in pan.
Parsley garnish added to tossed st josephs day pasta in pan, with stainless steel spoon.

  • Transfer to a serving platter, top with a bit of the reserved breadcrumbs and serve immediately. Serve the remaining breadcrumb mixture on the side for each person to top off their individual plates. If desired, drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil on the finished pasta. That’s it!
St Joseph's Pasta in green platter with parsley garnish and small bowl of breadcrumbs in background.

Try serving St Joseph’s Pasta with Sautéed Broccoli Rabe or Zucchini A Scapece–both are delicious pairings! And, don’t forget to serve it with some homemade Italian chili oil for a final kick of heat–it’s worth it!

More Simple Pasta Recipes

Here are few other pasta recipes that are easy and quick to assemble:

Close up of spaghetti with mollica on fork.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some other traditional dishes of St. Joseph’s Day?

Along with this Pasta e Muddica, Bucatini con le Sarde (pasta with sardines), which is also made with toasted breadcrumbs along with sardines, wild fennel, golden raisins, pine nuts and saffron, is another traditional pasta for this holiday. Breadcrumbs are a popular ingredient in many foods cooked on St. Joseph’s Day as they symbolize sawdust, given that Saint Joseph was a carpenter. You’ll find vegetables and fish coated with bread crumbs, artichokes stuffed with them, etc.
 
As this holiday is in the spring, seasonal fava beans always make an appearance as well.
 
But, many of the delicacies of St. Joseph’s day are of the sweet variety! Italian tables are filled the famous sfinge (fried dough rolled in sugar) and zeppoli, a cream puff-like dough that is filled with a sweet pastry cream, dusted with powdered sugar and garnished with a cherry. Fig cookies and sweets with orange zest are also very popular on this holiday.
 
Since the feast occurs in the middle of Lent, it is always a meatless celebration.

Why is St. Joseph’s Day an Italian holiday?

St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, is also Father’s Day all over Italy. Plus, St. Joseph is the patron saint of the southern Italian region of Sicily. Catholic legend has it that during a terrible drought in Sicily during the Middle Ages, villagers prayed to St. Joseph to intercede on their behalf. Their prayers were answered and the rain came, saving the spring crops from destruction and preventing a widespread famine in Sicily. The people then celebrated with a special feast of thanksgiving dedicated to the saint.

Can I make this recipe with panko breadcrumbs?

I don’t recommend it. Panko breadcrumbs have a very different texture than regular fine breadcrumbs and will not take on the ideal texture of wet sand with these recipe specs. Use plain (unseasoned), fine breadcrumbs in this recipe.

How long will leftovers of St Joseph’s Pasta last?

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat them, covered, in a small skillet over medium low heat with a little bit of water until heated through.


Drizzling spicy pepper oil over spaghetti ca muddica aka st joseph's spaghetti with breadcrumbs and anchovies.
Don’t forget to drizzle some homemade spicy chili oil over the pasta for a bit of picante!

Recipe Variations and Substitutions for St Joseph’s Pasta

Here are a few delicious ways to change up this spaghetti with breadcrumbs and anchovies recipe:

  • Add Tomato Paste: Adding some tomato paste to the pan to caramelize in the oil is a great idea and I have done it many times. It adds a nice tomato flavor and color. However, if you decide to try this, you should toast the breadcrumbs in a separate pan and then just join them with the anchovy/tomato mixture and hot pasta at the end.
  • Add Butter: Cut the olive oil with some butter for a richer flavor.
  • Use “Fake” Breadcrumbs: In other words, if you prefer to not add carbs to carbs (understandably), you can make a breadcrumb-like mixture with ground nuts (pine nuts is a great option) and or crispy chickpeas.
  • Add Nuts, Currant, Orange Zest: Some versions of this recipe include a bit of orange zest, chopped toasted nuts and/or currants or raisins for additional flavors and textures.
  • Make Homemade Breadcrumbs: Making breadcrumbs from scratch is a great idea if you have stale bread available! And, very much in line with the concept of cucina povera.
Spaghetti with Breadcrumbs and Anchovies on green platter with parsley garnish.

More Great Recipes to Try

I hope that you are enjoying my Italian food blog Mangia With Michele and all of my Italian recipes and Italian-American recipes!

If you’ve tried St Joseph’s Pasta or any other recipe on the blog, please let me know how it went in the comments below — I love hearing from you!

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St Joseph's Pasta in green platter with parsley garnish and small bowl of breadcrumbs in background.

St Joseph’s Pasta ~ Spaghetti with Anchovies and Breadcrumbs

Michele
St Joseph’s Pasta is a simple but delicious combination of spaghetti with toasted breadcrumbs, anchovies, capers, olives, garlic and parsley. Affordable, easy to make and ready in less than thirty minutes, this dish is most often made on March 19th to honor the feast day of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of Sicily.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Pasta, Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 servings

Ingredients
  

  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • ½ cup drained capers (about 3 ounces or 1–5.3 ounce jar, drained)
  • ½ cup pitted, lightly chopped black, oil-cured olives
  • 1 (2-ounce) tin anchovies in olive oil including the oil
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic (use more or less, as desired)
  • cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 2 cups plain, fine breadcrumbs
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti or other long pasta (no salt in pasta water)

Instructions
 

  • Prep and gather all ingredients according to specifications above. Put a large pot of water on to boil.
    (Please see the section above in the blog post for Step-By-Step instructions with photos.)
  • Combine ½ cup olive oil, capers, olives, anchovies and anchovy oil, garlic, half the parsley and red pepper flakes in a large skillet over medium low heat and cook until the anchovies have dissolved and the garlic has lightly browned and become fragrant, about 4 to 5 minutes. (Break up the anchovies with a wooden spoon, if necessary, to help them dissolve.)
    ½ cup drained capers, ½ cup pitted, lightly chopped black, oil-cured olives, 1 (2-ounce) tin anchovies in olive oil, 2 Tbsp minced garlic, ⅓ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley,, ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
  • Then, add the breadcrumbs and black pepper to the skillet and stir well to combine. Add the remaining ¼ cup olive oil if the mixture seems excessively dry. Stir until the mixture becomes crumbly; it should have the consistency of wet sand. Cook until the breadcrumbs are toasted, about 2 to 3 minutes.
    2 cups plain, fine breadcrumbs, Pinch ground black pepper
  • Turn the heat off and remove about half the breadcrumb mixture and set it aside.
  • Meanwhile, once the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, according to the package instructions. (Note: No salt is needed in the pasta water since there is already so much salt in the anchovies, capers and olives. Also, this is not a traditional pasta sauce in which the pasta will finish cooking. As such, cook the pasta until a full al dente in the boiling water before combining it with the breadcrumb mixture.)
    1 pound spaghetti
  • Once the pasta is al dente, transfer it to the skillet with the breadcrumbs and increase the heat to medium, mainly to cook off any moisture. Add only a small amount of pasta water if needed to help coat the spaghetti with the breadcrumb mixture (¼ cup at the most).
  • Once the spaghetti has been well-coated and tossed with the breadcrumbs, turn off the heat and mix in the remaining chopped parsley.
  • Transfer to a serving platter, top with a bit of the reserved breadcrumbs and serve immediately. Serve the remaining breadcrumb mixture on the side for each person to top off their individual plates. If desired, drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil on the finished pasta. Buon Appetito!

Notes

  • Since there are so many very salty ingredients in this dish (anchovies, capers and olives), no salt is needed in the pasta water or added to the dish, in general.
  • With most other pastas that are more sauce-based, the recommendation is to undercook the pasta a bit in the boiling water so that it can finish cooking in the sauce. That is not the case with this recipe. The pasta should be cooked to a proper al dente BEFORE being added to the skillet with the breadcrumb mixture.
  • Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat them, covered, in a small skillet over medium low heat with a little bit of water until heated through.
 
Recipe by Mangia With Michele. Please visit my site for more great cooking inspiration!
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1 thought on “St Joseph’s Pasta ~ Spaghetti with Anchovies and Breadcrumbs

  1. 5 stars
    Excellent recipe and very easy. So much flavor and love the capers and olives. I will definitely make this again.

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