I know I go on and on about quality, but there is a reason. The way I cook, and the recipes I publish here on this blog, often have just a handful of ingredients. And when your dish is made up of just 4 or 5 ingredients, if those ingredients aren’t the best you can possibly find, it’s going to affect the outcome of your dish. There is just no way around it.
I realize that not everyone has the same access to produce as I do. Seasons are different (hello Australia!) and farmer’s markets few and far between. That’s why I usually try and suggest some substitutions. And I love hearing what you come up with in terms of personalizing and improvising one of my recipes.
That said, there are certain basic ingredients that you can’t mess with. Yet it is exactly those common ingredients that I think people take for granted, that they consider just ‘background’ ingredients. One of these is extra virgin olive oil. Another is tomatoes. As I’ve written in the past, just because an ingredient is not in the title of the recipe, that doesn’t make it any less important to the success of a dish.
Another ingredient that people tend to take for granted and/or ignore completely are anchovies. Yes, I know, you either love them or hate them. But if you hate them? I have a feeling you’ve never really had great anchovies. Also? Even though you say you hate them, I am pretty sure that you have, over the years, eaten them and loved them, never suspecting they were even in the dish. They are a chefs secret weapon to add a wollop of flavor to almost any dish.
But what a lot of people don’t realize is that there are anchovies, and then there are great anchovies. A few months ago my friend Rolando was visiting for the weekend in Umbria, and he arrived with a little jar of the fishies as a gift. Usually, I’m used to receiving bottles of wine, wheels of cheese, even guest soaps as hostess gifts. But a little jar of anchovies? Well, ok.
At lunch the next day, when Rolando served the anchovies as our first course, we all understood the power of that little jar. Rolando toasted rounds of bread, laid a thick slab of butter on top, and then gently draped each crostini with one perfect, glistening, slightly silver anchovy. As we bit into them, we all realized these were not the overpoweringly fishy, salty filets that we were all used to, but a firm, almost sweet, explosion of the sea itself.
A few weeks ago I went with Rolando to find out more about these extraordinary anchovies. How they are fished, how they are processed and how, finally, they make it into those little jars and onto the table.
This video was filmed at:
Cologna di Pellezzano, Salerno
I was invited to visit Cetara and Amalfi coast by Manicaretti Italian Food Importers, and was the guest of IASA.