There’s nothing like writing a book and having it edited to make you realize just how inconsistent and self contradicting you are. While I know I make mistakes with grammar and spelling whenever I put thought to paper, I hadn’t realized that I was making much bigger errors until I got back my marked up manuscript.
Yes, I was saying one thing on page 25 while saying the complete opposite on page 246.
Luckily I have an expert editor who catches these types of things. Also? Thankfully I’m not writing about earth shattering events like World War II or the invention of electricity. No, I’m just musing on life here in Rome, and how I eat and cook my way around it. So the comments from my editor tend to run like this: You said on page 35 that your favorite gelato in Rome is pistachio at Gelateria Pica, then on page 167 you say your favorite is roasted chestnut at Gracchi. Which one?
Can’t a girl have two (or four) favorites when it comes to gelato?
But the whole process has made me think out my definitive declarations more carefully. Like maybe I shouldn’t use the word favorite so liberally? Or declare that I ‘always’ use something, when my ‘always’ can change from one moment to the next (which pretty much defeats the use of the word always.)
One of the aforementioned marked up passages involved the use of anchovies. I love anchovies and use them a lot. But I guess, over the years, I’ve declared the following:
Again, sorry. But, well, I really did feel that way at the moment. And if I had to pick one type of anchovy over the other, I’m not sure I could. Both are good and both have their merits.
Which kind I use pretty much depends on which ones end up in my kitchen. More often than not my lazy wins out and when I go to grab a jar of anchovies in the store, I’m more likely to go for the olive oil packed because they are easier. Open up the jar and out comes a plump fillet, ready to use
Most recently, when I wrote about making pasta with anchovies I loudly declared my love of anchovies packed in olive oil. Specifically I said (and I quote myself): Big fat anchovies packed in oil are my favorite.
At which point my friend Beatrice wrote me asking what I had against anchovies preserved in salt. I explained that I didn’t have anything against the salt packed fish, but that I just didn’t happen to have any of them at the time I made dinner. Plus? They are a bit more work.
Beatrice’s response was to immediately send me two jars of what she says are the best salt-packed anchovies ever. (Did I mention that Beatrice has a company that imports Italian food from Italy and distributes them in the USA? And did I mention that one of the things she imports are salt-packed anchovies?)
I have to admit, it took me a few weeks to crack open the jar. And this is where my lazy kicked in. Salt packed anchovies are a bit more work
These anchovies come from the small village of Cetara, on the Amalfi coast. Immediately after being caught, the anchovies are beheaded, and then quickly packed tightly into jars full of salt: bones and all. The fact that they are processed so quickly means that these are some of the tastiest anchovies you can get. But there’s that whole bone and salt thing to get through before you can use them.
Before you use them, the fish must first be rinsed off, since they are encrusted with the salt and have been soaking in brine. I usually also let them soak in water for about a half hour to make sure I rid them of as much salt as possible. Then, taking a sharp knife, I slice open the belly and flip the anchovy open. If there are any visible innards I pick those out.
And now comes the delicate, tricky part. I gently pull off the spine, along with the bones, being as careful as possible not to pull away any of the precious flesh. They are then ready to go.
As I’ve said in the past, anchovies can make anything good even better. I use them in pasta sauces all the time, and even add them to soups to add that extra umpf of umami. But since I’d gone to all the trouble to filet these babies, I wanted to make something where they wouldn’t disappear and melt into nothing.
New potatoes were quickly steamed, and then tossed with olive oil, the anchovies and a big bunch of arugula.
The anchovies stayed firm and their fishy saltiness was the perfect pairing with this simple, starchy salad.
I hope you’re reading this Beatrice. As you can see, when it comes to anchovies I’m pretty much an equal opportunity employer. Even if it is a bit more work.
- 1 pound new potatoes
- 6 anchovies packed in salt
- 1 big bunch of arugula or watercress, rinsed and chopped
- ½ cup olive oil
- To prepare the anchovies rinse them off in water. Place in a small bowl and cover with cool water. Let sit for at least a half hour or more.
- Rinse and dry the anchovies and place on a wooden board. With a sharp knife, gently slit open the belly, from tail to head (which isn’t there actually). Using your fingers, gently flip the anchovy open. The back bone should stick to one side.
- Using your fingers, gently pull up the back bone, starting at one end. Try not to pull up any of the flesh. It’s a bit tricky.
- Chop the fillets into ¼ inch pieces and place in the olive oil in a small bowl.
- Scrub the potatoes, but don’t peel. If they are small, leave them whole, otherwise cut them in half. Place them in a steamer and cook until just done. This should only take 10 to 12 minutes.
- When the potatoes are done ( you want them cooked, but still firm) place in a bowl. Pour over the olive oil and anchovies and toss. While still warm, add the arugula, and toss. The warmth of the potatoes should wilt the greens. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve at room temperature.
The anchovies that I used in this recipe were given to me by Gustiamo.
And my pretty little serving dish is from Sberna in Deruta.