“The Vacationers” Pasta with Capers and Anchovies

by Cara Nicoletti on August 14, 2014


I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I updated Yummy Books! It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you’re laying on the beach tanning, and drinking beer on rooftops, and reading in hammocks, and eating colorful homemade popsicles.

At least, I assume this is true. I know that a lot of you are doing these things, because I’m living vicariously through you, obsessively checking your Instagram feeds. I’ve spent most of the summer either in front of a computer or behind a meat counter, and I’ve got the creepy pale legs and dead eyes to prove it. This summer hasn’t been all bad, though. In between all of the work there have been a few shining moments.


In June, there was a day spent walking up and down a windy Rhode Island beach with my older sister and my new niece, Vivian, whose birth in late March made everything brighter. There was a day spent wandering up and down Salem Street in the North end of Boston with my grandfather, listening to stories about his father and brother and their butcher shop, and the weekend I stuffed a duffle bag with only sausages and a bathing suit and rode a bus home to Massachusetts to surprise him on his 85th birthday. There was a night spent visiting my cousin at ZZ’s Clam Bar and drinking the most delicious tiki drinks I have ever tasted, including one that came inside of a coconut that had been lit on fire, which made me ask myself how I had lived my whole life without drinking rum out of a fiery coconut and how I would ever be able to drink a beer ever again.


And there was a day that I made a decision to not check my email for the whole day, and I laid in the park watching hoards of people coming home from the pride parade in Manhattan, and I ate two Mister Softee cones covered in rainbow sprinkles and drank a bottle of rose and read all of Emma Straub’s The Vacationers.


Emma and her husband, Mike, are good friends with my bosses at The Meat Hook (Mike also designed The Meat Hook Meat Book). A couple of years ago, I saw Emma in the shop for the first time, and having just read Other People We Married, I got star-struck and sweaty. Now I pretend it’s no big deal, but it’s totally a big deal.

Of the twenty-two books I had on my summer reading list, I only completed five, but I’m glad The Vacationers was one of them. There’s a reason that this book is getting so much attention right now—it is an absolutely perfect summer read (as evidenced by the fact that I read it cover to cover in one day). Most of the time, when something is dubbed a “summer read” there’s an implication that it isn’t smart, but this isn’t the case with The Vacationers, which has depth without heaviness. The characters are alive and their problems are real–there is family weirdness, secrets, sex, romance, lies. And there is food. There is so much food.


Franny, the matriarch of the Post family, is a food-writer (“like Joan Didion, only with an appetite, or like Ruth Reichl, but with an attitude problem”). Her love of food borders on erotic–even a passage about her eating Nutella from a jar made me blush–but after years of fighting it, attempting diets and attending Overeaters Anonymous, Franny has finally made peace with it.

“Franny knew plenty of women who had chosen to prioritize the eternal youth of their bodies, and they were all miserable creatures, their taut triceps unable to conceal their dissatisfaction with their empty stomachs and unfulfilled lives. Franny liked to eat, and to feed people, and she wasn’t embarrassed that her body displayed such proclivities.”

Of all the food scenes in the book, my favorite is the dinner Franny makes on their first night in Mallorca.

Franny bought some anchovies, a box of dried pasta, two fat links of sausage, and cheese… She could already taste the salty cheese melting into the pasta, the tang of the anchovies…Franny loved cooking in the summertime, the ease of almost every ingredient being at room temperature. She opened the jar of capers and let a dozen or so fall into a large bowl, into which she then grated some of the cheese. That was all they needed—oil and starch, fat and salt. Tomorrow they would eat vegetables, but tonight they were truly on vacation, and eating only for pleasure.

Like Franny, I ate my dried sausage as an appetizer, and focused on the anchovies, capers, and parmesan for the pasta. It gets garlicky breadcrumbs for texture, lemon and parsley for brightness, and red pepper for heat. It’s summer vacation in a bowl, because nothing says “I don’t know anything about summer vacation” quite like giving you a pasta recipe with bread in it. You’re welcome!


Pasta with Capers and Anchovies
Serves 6-8
1 pound spaghetti
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 anchovies packed in olive oil, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup capers, drained and patted dry
1 cup dry breadcrumbs (made from 1 stale or toasted baguette)
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup reserved pasta water
½ cup good parmesan, plus more for topping
½ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste


Bring a large stockpot of heavily-salted water to a boil and add spaghetti, cooking per package instructions.
While spaghetti is cooking, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Add anchovies, garlic cloves, crushed red pepper, and capers to oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden brown—about 3 minutes. Stir in breadcrumbs and cook until toasted and fragrant, about 2 more minutes.
Drain spaghetti, reserving 1/3 cup of pasta water.
In a large serving bowl, whisk together egg yolks, pasta water and parmesan. Add pasta to bowl and toss to coat.
Add toasted breadcrumb mixture, parsley, and lemon zest to pasta and toss until everything is evenly distributed. Top with more parmesan, and season with salt and pepper to taste.


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If there’s a literary food scene you want to see come to life be sure to leave me a comment and let me know! Or take a peek in the Recipe Index.

Leave a Comment

Elizabeth Aquino August 14, 2014 at 1:42 am

I read this book earlier this summer and actually thought of you because of all the food! And here you are! Your recipe looks astounding — I’m afraid that my sons won’t eat it, but I, like Franny, will relish every bit.


Sebastian Humperdink August 14, 2014 at 3:40 am

Comforting and well written, as usual.


Susan Corson August 14, 2014 at 7:48 am

That’s gorgeous! So happy to see this in my inbox this morning. And can’t wait to read the book! Thanks Cara!


marcy August 14, 2014 at 8:44 am

It feels like fall this morning and I’m cooking this tonight. Amazing!


Caroline August 14, 2014 at 9:16 am

Now ravenous after eating breakfast an hour ago. This sounds so. good.


Seymour Salett August 14, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Cara, I shouldn’t read your blogs before dinner- I get so hungry and want to have the recipe cooked for me. I’m glad that you had the opportunity to spend some time with you Grandfather-, he’s a very lucky man.


Michael August 14, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Hello, Ms. Nicoletti.

I’m a big time foodie and I’ve been working in the restaurant industry for 22 years in the front of the house, and in the kitchen. I’m the kind of person who reads cook books for fun. I’m also a writer and big time reader. So that said, I just want to let you know that I love, love, love your Yummy Books blog! I find that it inspires the imagination. And I look forward getting your book.

Also: I like this recipe. It’s almost like a deconstructed caesar dressing tossed in pasta. I’m going to try this dish but substitute, spaghetti squash for the pasta… I like to leave my allotment of empty carbs for the booze.


Deb August 14, 2014 at 7:10 pm

There is nothing better than seeing a new Yummybooks post in my morning email. I stood there in my pajamas laughing and drooling. I cannot wait to make this!!


Amina | PAPER/PLATES August 14, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Looks darn good, and you’ve reignited my desire to read this book.


Linda August 14, 2014 at 10:30 pm

I loved this book too! You could almost put on a couple of pounds just reading it. Any chance you have Franny’s recipe for roast chicken? Keep up this wonderful blog!


Vanessa September 24, 2014 at 11:38 am

I came across your wonderful blog site completely by accident, one rainy day when I was idly skimming the Internet for books with wonderful food scenes. I have to say that your writing is so lovely, melancholy and beautifully descriptive at the same time. I particularly admire the honesty of your voice. You don’t pretend all is perfect and wonderful and I appreciate that, as I, too, have always turned to cooking and reading as my ways of escaping the sometimes-harsh realities of life. So thank you again. One book in particular that I think you might enjoy reading and then replicating is called “La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture” by Lily Prior. If you can get past the tweeness of the subtitle, you’ll find a book full of passion, love and wonderful Sicilian recipes that may inspire your blog and photographs. Happy reading and I look forward to more of your posts.


Cynthia Grant September 6, 2015 at 11:38 am

Looking forward to sharing your beautiful pictures and recipes with all my Canadian friends!!


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