The comfort of anchovies

Occasionally, I have a difficult day. No sizable reason, just a cluster of them large enough to carry an antsy undercurrent of unease. On days like this, I tend to remain hidden in bed through familiar morning rituals, rising only to thieve my computer unseen, so that I can find solace in mainstream entertainment. I opt to shut out the world and ignore responsibilities for a few hours and let the unease work its way out of me, a task better achieved with the aid of a comforting snack. A chocolate bar, cookies or a pint of gelato might seem like the obvious choice, except that comfort tastes savory to me. Savory, salty, silvery, briny and high in calcium at that.

Yes, you guessed it: anchovies are what pulls me out of a funk. In fact, when heaped on butter-slathered toasted bread they can dry my bitterest tears.

I hold little loyalty to any particular food. I favor eats because they suit an impermanent mood or they are of the season, because they assuage fear or they pique curiosity. But cornered on a desert island, a loaf of bread, a slab of butter and a jar of salt packed anchovies are what I would want with me. Well, that and my new iPhone 5S with a solar power charger.

And it's not just that anchovies are delicious as a stand-alone food, they are also a game-changing ingredient to deepen the flavor of any dish. I use them in pasta sauces and roasts, in fillings and  salad dressings. And have you ever eaten them fresh? They are perfect grilled or pan-fried, but their most sublime, crispiest death is met breaded and dropped in scalding hot oil.

From late spring into summer and at times into fall, they slither copiously in the waters of Monterey Bay and often make their way to fish counters around San Francisco.

My latest addiction are green olives stuffed with anchovies and capers by my friend Maria Luisa Manca, a native of Catania who lives in Morgan Hill. Last December, she offered them for sale at the annual Mercatino di Natale-a holiday market offering the crafts of Italian women in the Bay Area held at The Italian American Museum of San Francisco.

And one more thing...look at how good anchovies are for you!

These little pets put me in such a good mood. Here are a few ways I have enjoyed them over the past couple of weeks alone.

Before I leave you with some cooking ideas, please take the time to check my calendar for upcoming 2014 classes and events.

Pizzette di polenta bianca White polenta mini pizzas

I took white polenta leftover from my polenta class at 18 Reasons, shaped it into 6 disks about 3" in diameter and 1" in height, pan-fried them in a bit of olive oil, spread each with half a tablespoon of tomato paste, then laid a slice of fresh mozzarella and 2 olive oil packed anchovy fillets. Right before placing them in 325˚F oven for about 10 minutes I sprinkled my makeshift pizzette with dry Sicilian oregano. They and a salad made for a very happy lunch to which I invited 2 friends and a bottle of prosecco.

shapes and flavors of comfort

 

Pane burro e acciughe Bread, butter and anchovies

Here's the picture of what put me in a good mood. The anchovies I used are from Cetara, a small town on the Amalfi Coast. They came packed in salt. I washed, cleaned and re-packed them in extra virgin olive oil. The butter is Clover organic, unsalted of course. The bread is from a bag of six lovely par-baked ones I buy from Berkeley Bowl and pop in the oven when in need of crusty, steaming bread.

 

 

 

Orecchiette piccanSpigarielloti con spigariello, aglietto fresco e acciughe Spicy orecchiette with spigariello, green garlic and anchovies

Spigariello is a broccoli family curly little leafy green. The tender leaves grow around a small rapini like flower which will keep sprouting after it's cut. Its bitterness is more delicate and subtle than that of other brassicas and the leaves are tender enough to be a salad. If you do not find it, you can substitute it with rapini, broccoli rabe, romanesco, or even with good old broccoli, you will just need to cut them in small pieces and adjust the cooking time to make your green of choice quite tender.

 

 

 

 

for 6 people 3 stalks green garlic salt to taste 5 to 6 anchovy fillets in olive oil 1 pound spigariello 1 pound box orecchiette 1⁄4 cup olive oil 1 pinch red pepper flakes grated pecorino

Clean the green garlic as if they were scallions, by eliminating the root, removing 1 outer layer and eliminating the fibrous green part at the very top. Cut 2 of the garlic stalks  in chunks, add them to a large pot of salted boiling water and let cook for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, mince the remaining green garlic and the anchovies together.

Add the cleaned spigariello to the water and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Using a strainer, fish the garlic and greens out of the water which will be reserved to cook the pasta.

Chop the greens and garlic quite finely and set them aside.

Bring the greens cooking water back to a boil and drop the orecchiette in it.

In the meantime, heat the minced garlic and red pepper flakes in the olive oil in saute pan over medium heat.

When the garlic is soft and translucent, add the chopped greens and saute for about 5 minutes.

When the orecchiette are still quite toothsome, transfer them to the pan using a strainer or a slotted spoon.

Gradually add small quantities of pasta cooking water, as much as it is necessary to bring to the desired tenderness. Finish with a splash of olive oil and serve immediately with the pecorino on the side.

 

Pecorino di fossa con olive paradisiache di Maria Luisa Cave aged pecorino with Maria Luisa's heavenly olivesPecorino di fossa e olive di Maria Luisa

For this heavenly snack, you will need me to cajole Maria Luisa into making her olives for you. Then I can try to track down another friend, Tiziana owner of Un Po' Pazzo Selections, who has been importing the sheep cheeses of La Parrina, an early adopter of organic and sustainable agriculture in the Maremma region, which happens a stone's throw away from where my family spends the summers about which I wrote back in July and August. Maybe I can convince Tiziana to sell some of this coveted, scarce cave aged sheep cheese. Lastly you will lounge on your couch, listening to your favorite music, nibbling on your pecorino and olive and meditating on how lucky you are to have Italian connections in the Bay Area.