Penne with Spinach, White Beans and Garlic Oil

A simple and delicious bowl of penne with spinach, white beans and garlic oil is dressed up with a secret ingredient! 

I know this looks like your basic bowl of penne pasta. There's spinach. There's white beans. There's parmesan (a lot more parmesan than pictured by the time I finally ate it! Loooove me some parm!). But lurking below the surface is a secret ingredient that brings this basic looking bowl to new levels of amazingness....anchovies!

You're going to have to stay with me on this one. Like 90% of the population, the taste of anchovies right out of the tin is pretty ick to me. Let me say, I am NOT an anchovy lover.

Buuuuut, warm them up in a little olive oil or butter, add garlic and you've got nutty, garlicky, umami goodness. Gone is the briny, fishy flavor and in it's place, you've got a sauce that tastes like no other. Just trust me on this one. Remember, this is the girl who once got in a physical altercation with her little brother because he put anchovies on her cheese pizza.

I've talked before about the mood boosting benefits of omega 3 fats found in fatty fish. Long story short, omega 3s are incorporated into cell membrane in the brain, which reduces inflammation, speeds cognitive processing and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. If there's one specific nutrient most crucial for brain health in my mind, it's omega 3 fats.

Yet, it's tricky to get all the omega 3s you need! Wild fish can get expensive, and while canned wild tuna and salmon make it more affordable, theres only so much tuna salad you can eat. That's where anchovies come in! The pasta sauce in this recipe can be used not only in pizza but drizzled over roasted or grilled vegetables, stirred into yogurt to make a dip, or served over roasted chicken. Ohhh, or your could brush it over good, crusty bread before toasting! So many possibilities!

This pasta dish is super easy to throw together, and if you swap frozen spinach for fresh, it can be made with all pantry friendly ingredients. Perfect for those days when it's been a bit too long between trips to the grocery store! Feel free to dress it up with black olives, sun dried tomatoes or even leftover roasted chicken in lieu of or alongside the white beans for extra protein.

Good Mood Food: Penne with Spinach, White Beans and Garlic Oil


  • 8 ounces 100% whole grain penne

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

  • 1 2-ounce tin of anchovies, drained and chopped

  • 1 6-ounce bag baby spinach

  • 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed

  • 1/3 cup walnuts, toasted

  • Parmesan, for serving


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on high heat. Cook penne according to package instructions until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup starchy pasta water and place pasta back in the pot.

  2. Heat olive oil in a large sided skillet on medium heat. Add garlic and red chili flakes. Cook 30 seconds until fragrant. Add anchovies and saute 1 minute, breaking down anchovies further with the back of a spatula. Turn off heat.

  3. Add anchovy garlic sauce to the pasta in the pot. Turn on medium heat. Add spinach and white beans and reserved pasta water and cook until warmed through and spinach is wilted. Season with pepper (should have enough salt from the sauce). Pour into a bowl and garnish with walnuts and parmesan.

More hidden anchovy dishes: 

Caesar Salad Pita Pizza

Caesar Salad Pita Pizza

Spaghetti with Roasted Cauliflower and Browned Butter Sauce

Spaghetti with Roasted Cauliflower and Browned Butter Sauce

Mediterranean Cobb Salad

Mediterranean Cobb Salad

This recipe for penne with spinach, white beans and garlic oil is SO simple, yet packed with flavor thanks to a garlic oil made with a secret ingredient! #pasta #highfiber #recipe #easyrecipe #wholegrain #beans