The dreaded anchovy

The right recipes bring out the best in this delicacy which often gets a bad rap it doesn't deserve

JOHN CAROFOLI
I've heard enough about the absurd, irrational, disdain many people have for anchovies. So I decided that, rather than trying to convince people verbally of the fish's versatility, I'd write an article paying tribute to this underutilized delicacy by providing some delicious and different recipes.


The crisp bite of fresh vegetables contrasts pleasantly with the rich, hearty taste of bagna cauda, a delicacy from northeastern Italy. The dip uses anchovies, oil, garlic, capers, parsley and butter.
(Staff photo by Kevin Mingora)

When I talked with my friend, Kevin Mingora - whose beautiful photographs appear with this article - about the food he was to photograph, his first reaction was, "I don't eat anchovies!" By the end of the photo shoot, not only had he had tasted all the dishes - he was a convert. Others, like my dear friend Samantha Rockman, have been eating anchovies since they were children. Samantha confided, "when I was eight years old, I used to come home from school, take a cracker, spread it with cream cheese and put an anchovy on top. I loved the salty taste!"

Anchovies are a good source for flavoring all sorts of savory dishes including sauces, stews, and roasts. When I began researching this article, I happened to watch a cooking show with Lidia Bastianich, who recommended adding one anchovy to a pot roast, or to a meat sauce for pasta. "It gives depth and complexity to the food," she said.

Enhancing recipes with fish or a fish sauce is nothing new in the cooking world. The ancient Romans seldom used salt, but instead employed a substance called garum, which was made in large containers by layering fatty fish like sardines with aromatic herbs and salt. It was then left to ferment for seven days in the sun. After that, the Romans mixed it for 20 days until it became a liquid. Garum was a common staple used in the full range of early Roman cuisine.

Today, the anchovy is used to flavor foods.

I always encourage people to expand their culinary repertoire by trying different foods they are not accustomed to eating. Trying these recipes, even if you've always thought you didn't like anchovies, is one way of starting the New Year with a small and satisfying adventure. Enjoy!




Anchovies, anyone?

There are many species of anchovies from all parts of the world. You can buy them:

Canned in olive oil

Whole

Filleted

Rolled in capers

As paste in a tube

Salted (usually found in Italian grocery stores)

 

 



The Piedmont region, located in the far northeast corner of Italy, bordering France to the west and Switzerland to the north, is known for its famous white truffles from the area around Alba and Asti. Truffles often are combined with anchovies in local cuisine. One of the most flavorful savory peasant dishes, Bagna cauda, is a sort of fondue made from anchovies, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, capers, parsley, butter, and a shaving of white truffle, which is served as a dip with fresh raw vegetables.

Pronounced BAHN-yah KOW-dah, the term comes from bagna caldo, Italian for "hot bath." A savory dish, quick and easy to prepare, this can be served right in the same dish or pot in which it is made. Serve it as a chic finger-food treat for your next cocktail party, or as a casual dinner for friends or family.

 

Bagna Cauda

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced

1 (2-ounce) can rolled anchovy fillets with capers

1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

 

Combine the olive oil, butter and garlic in a chafing dish, cast-iron pan, or enamel or earthenware casserole. Simmer the ingredients for a few minutes over medium heat.

Do not let the garlic turn brown. Add the anchovies with the capers and the parsley. Simmer the mixture for 15 minutes, or until the flavors are well integrated. (The anchovies will dissolve.) Remove the pot from the stove and place it over a candle warmer or spirit lamp. Serve it with assorted crisp vegetables and Italian or French bread, along with a bold-spirited red wine such as a Valpolicella or if you prefer white, a crisp Savor.

 

Bagnet (a term familiar to the Piedmontese) was my Aunt Mary's recipe, passed down from her mother (my grandmother) who got it from the people in the village of Sagamore who were originally from Piedmont. It is a sauce used as a spread on slices of Italian bread or crackers, or as an hors d' oeuvre. I like to use salted anchovies if they are available, but they must be cleaned and washed. One-quarter of a pound is plenty.

 

Bagnet

2 to 3 cups fresh Italian parsley

3 cloves garlic

2 red or green peppers

1 large carrot

2 medium onions

1 cup olive oil

2 cans (2 ounce each) anchovies (with or without capers)

2 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1/4 cup vinegar or to taste

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste

 

Put parsley, garlic, peppers, carrot, and onions through a meat grinder, alternating small amounts of each ingredient as you proceed. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and anchovies, dissolving the anchovies completely. To the oil and anchovies add the vegetable mixture, tomato sauce, vinegar and red pepper. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-low heat uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Store in the refrigerator or freeze. (It freezes well.) Makes about 5 1/2 cups.

 

This is a tasty twist on an old classic, pasta served tossed with an anchovy sauce. The difference is that I partially cook the pasta and then finish cooking it in the sauce over high heat, making a very rich and intense dish. Don't worry about the amount of pasta water you're adding to the sauce. It will reduce as it cooks and helps bind the sauce.

When serving it to guests (who you know have no allergies), don't tell them there are anchovies in the sauce, and see what they say.

 

Anchovy Sauce Cooked with Linguine

1/4 cup olive oil

1 (2-ounce) can anchovies packed in olive oil, undrained

1 to 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons drained capers in brine (or capers in salt, rinsed and drained)

1/2 heaping cup chopped Italian parsley

1 pound linguine

Zest of 1 lemon, grated

Salt (for cooking linguine)

 

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a deep, heavy skillet large enough to hold the cooked pasta (about 12 inches in diameter). Add the anchovies, garlic, and red pepper and sauté gently, stirring often, until the garlic turns golden. Immediately dissolve the tomato paste in the wine and stir into the mixture. Stir in the capers and about 1/3 cup of the parsley, reserving the rest. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce, uncovered, for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 5 quarts water to a boil in a large (6- to 8-quart) saucepan. Add the lemon zest while it heats. When the water boils, add the salt, drop in the linguini and cook just until it has wilted, about 1 minute. It will still be close to raw. Add 3 to 4 ladlefuls of the linguine cooking water to the anchovy sauce. Drain the linguine in a colander and add it to the sauce in the skillet, toss or stir with two wooden spoons or a pasta fork to distribute the contents, turn up the heat to high and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, uncovered, for about 8 minutes. The liquid will reduce and the pasta will be al dente. To serve, turn into four large heated bowls and sprinkle with the reserved chopped parsley. Serves 4.

 

The traditional Caesar Salad recipe provided here calls for anchovies. Some restaurants refuse to put them on the salad and most don't make the dressing with them. A Caesar Salad without anchovies is not a real Caesar Salad. My partner, John Murelle, makes this version with anchovy paste rather than whole anchovies, and without the traditional raw egg, and you can't tell the difference.

 

Caesar Salad

2 medium heads romaine lettuce

1 tablespoon anchovy paste

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce

1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

5 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup finely grated freshly Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 cups croutons*

 

Separate the leaves of the romaine; wash and dry thoroughly. Cut or tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. In a large salad bowl, add the next five ingredients. Working with a large spoon, mix all ingredients together until well combined. Add the lemon juice, olive oil and pepper, and continue to mix with the spoon until well-incorporated. Add the lettuce and toss until all the dressing has coated the leaves. Add the Parmesan cheese and croutons, toss again several times then divide equally between four chilled plates and serve. Serves 4.

 

* Homemade croutons

Making your own croutons for this salad is a much tastier alternative to store-bought ones. You will need about 1 1/2 cups. Make extra and store in an airtight container for another use.

 

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup 1/2-inch bread cubes made from stale French or Italian bread

 

Mix the garlic with the olive oil, cut 1/2-inch pieces off of a baguette or Italian bread, and brush both sides with the garlic-oil mixture. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes, place them in an iron skillet on very low heat, and toss periodically until they are light brown on all sides. The garlic will not brown or burn if the heat is kept low enough.

 

Cauliflower in Brown Butter Sauce, made with just a touch of anchovy paste, is a delicious and unusual side dish that could enhance any meal. I developed this dish just before the photo shoot for this article and tested it out on the photographer. He loved it!

 

Cauliflower in Brown Butter Sauce

1 head cauliflower

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon anchovy paste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Fresh ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

 

Trim the cauliflower head; cutting the branches into florets. Place the trimmed vegetable into a large pot of salted boiling water and cook 5 to 6 minutes. Drain in a colander and keep warm. In a medium saucepan, add the butter, olive oil, and garlic. Sauté until garlic starts to turn light brown. Stir in the anchovy paste and lemon juice; cook 2 to 3 minutes until well incorporated. Add the cauliflower and fresh ground pepper, and toss until well coated. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings as a vegetable side dish.

John Carafoli, cooking expert and food stylist based on the Upper Cape, encourages readers to send comments or questions, which he will answer in his column on the first Wednesday of each month. Send inquiries to "Cooking With Carafoli," care of, Cape Cod Times Food Editor Gwenn Friss, 319 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601, or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Tips and information are also available at his Web site, www.carafoli.com.

 

(Published: January 5, 2005)