Anchovies

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 3: puntarelle alla romana

My 2 favorite classes among the ones who live in my head and I yet to find the courage to teach are one on anchovies and one I like to call Bitter is Better, to highlight such flavors as broccoli and chicories. The salad I am featuring today marries those 2 dreams in what I view as a perfect apotheosis of Christmas cheer. Puntarelle are a fibrous and bitter winter chicory which always sat prominently on the table of my grandparents' Christmases in Rome.

A tip when selecting puntarelle-literally little tips, they should be short and stout, if they look long and lanky, they've grown past their prime.

 


Puntarelle alla romana

Puntarelle with anchovy and garlic dressing

 

for 6 people

2 to 3 heads puntarelle (depending on the size)

4 anchovies packed in salt (or a small tin of fillets in olive oil)

1 garlic clove

1 lemon

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Early in the morning or even the evening before, prepare the puntarelle. Divide the heads into stalks and run the tip of a sharp paring knife lengthwise along the leaves and the hard center, effectively shredding each stalk in several longish, thin slices.

This is a rather tedious task, and if you are lucky enough to spend Christmas in Rome, you will find the chicory already skilfully prepared for you for a premium as you can see from the picture.

Once all the puntarelle are cut, place them in the salad spinner, submerge in cold water, add several cubes of ice and let sit until they curl.

To prepare the dressing, rinse the salt off the anchovies under cold running water, separate each anchovy in half from the tail up and remove the spine. Smash and peel the garlic clove. Zest and juice the lemon.

Place the anchovies, garlic, zest and lemon juice in a food processor bowl. Start the motor and process while adding olive oil in a thin stream until you have a runny and shiny well balanced dressing. Adjust salt and pepper.

When ready to serve, drain the puntarelle and spin several times to eliminate as much water as possible.

Place in a serving bowl, pour the dressing on them and toss well to coat all the curls thoroughly.

My week in Italian politics

Foto ricevimento marino
Foto ricevimento marino

If you follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook (and if you don't, you should!), you know that last week our beloved consul general Mauro Battocchi picked me among the Bay Area's bevy of Italian kitchen talent to cook for Mayor Ignazio Marino of Rome.

Mayor Marino addressed an audience of 50 citizens of the world on the need to help preserve the archaeological architectural heritage of Rome as I wiled away in the kitchen, doing my best to show that anyone's commitment to the culture of Italy also means we will all eat much better.

My trend of recognition continued yesterday, when my close friend Valentina Imbeni, director of La Scuola Italian International School asked that I feed breakfast/mid-morning snacks to a roomful of 20-30 people gathering for a private meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Brekafast Renzi
Brekafast Renzi

Mr. Renzi made his dedication of La Scuola's new Kindergarten through 8th grade campus his only official appearance in SF, a moving moment for a group of parents to which I belong who have fought long and hard to establish this amazing place. La Scuola started as an informal playgroup and is now on the way to become one of the best language immersion schools in the Bay Area.

The greatest pleasure of the morning was spending time with Agnese Renzi, a witty and beautiful woman, full of questions on the Scuola, the vital community it gathers and the lives of Italians in San Francisco. Most importantly, she and I were the only ones wearing ivory in a sea of black dresses and suits AND she loved my ricotta tart with figs and pears.

Prime Minister Renzi dedicating La Scuola
Prime Minister Renzi dedicating La Scuola

I leave you today with the two recipes that were most appreciated during the 2 events, an antipasto and a dessert.

Should you wish to eat just like an Italian politician, I will include many recipes from the 2 events in the context of my monthly cooking workshop at the Consulate, reprising next Wednesday. The classes are held the first Wednesday of each month and you can refer to my calendar for instructions on registering, there are some spots still open.

Acciuga fritta
Acciuga fritta

Acciughe croccanti del Sindaco

Mayoral crispy anchovies

for 8 to 10 people

1/2 pound fresh anchovies

2 eggs

bread crumbs

oil for deep frying

salt to taste

 

Rinse the anchovies and pat them dry.

Slit along the underbelly and lay flat. Carefully remove the spine and head leaving the tail attached.

Beat the eggs well and salt lightly.

Fill a frying pan with the oil about 3/4 up the sides. Heat the oil to 320˚F (use a candy thermometer to measure).

Grab and anchovy by its tail and dunk in the eggs, ensure it is all covered. Dredge it through the breadcrumbs to coat all over in a light layer. Repeat until all the fish are coated.

Fry in small batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and cooling the oil. The oil should bubble and hiss quickly around each anchovy as it goes into the oil. When the first side is golden-about 2 minutes- turn over with tongs to finish the other side.

Transfer to paper towels to let the oil drain drain.

Repeat until all the anchovies are fried and transfer them to a shallow bowl. Salt lightly and toss by shaking the bowl.

Serve immediately.

 


Crostata ministeriale di ricotta con fichi e pere

Ministerial ricotta, figs and pears tart

 

for a 9 to 10” tart pan:

Crust:

2 cups (270 grams) flour

½ cup (115 grams) sugar

½ cup (135 grams) butter

4 egg yolks

pinch of salt

grated zest of a lemon

Filling:

2/3 pound fresh ricotta

1/2 cup sugar

grated zest of 1 orange

2 eggs

1 tablespoon rum or brandy

4 slightly under ripe figs

2 small pears

 

Prepare the pasta frolla: place all ingredients in the mixer with a paddle attachment, work on medium to high speed until they start coming together.

Empty on top of a piece of plastic wrap and press together with the tip of your fingers, then form a flat round ball with the palm of your hands.

Wrap tightly with plastic and place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes.

If using a food processor, pulse until the ingredients start coming together, and then proceed as above.

Push the ricotta through a sieve into a bowl and add the sugar and zest. Whisk together to dissolve the sugar and smooth.

Separate the eggs. Stir in the yolks and liquor into the ricotta mixture. Leave the whites at room temperature.

Roll the pasta frolla to about 1/4" and line the tart mold with it. Cut off excess crust and keep it to make cookies. Prick the bottom and return to the refrigerator.

Eliminate the stem from the figs with a pair of scissors, leaving the skin on. Cut in 8 sections.

Core and quarter the pears, cut each section into 4 slices. You will have an equal number of fig and pear slices.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and gently fold into the ricotta then pour the mixture into the tart shell just above the half way point.

Make rows or concentric circles with the fruit slices, alternating them and gently laying them on the top, without pushing into the ricotta.

Bake at 350˚F for about 1 hour, keeping the mold closer to the bottom of the oven. The edges with be a dark blond. The fruit slices will look slight withered and will have partially drowned in the filling.

Let cool before serving.

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.

Cooking in Italy: spaghetti mediterraneo-fresh anchovies, cherry tomatoes and arugula

My last day in Positano, dinner at the famed Buca di Bacco awaits tonight, but until then my heart is set on that boat and its charming young captain who will valiantly take me to Arienzo, the beach where for the last week I've been basking in the sun, swimming and enjoying house specialty after house specialty made with perfect homegrown vegetables and locally caught fish.

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I sprint on those last few meters, lest it take off without me. My right sandal slides from under me dragging my left leg behind it. Next I know I'm on board, feigning more faintness than I fairly should, while the charming young captain (his name is Adriano, I learn) tends to the abrasions running from my left foot all the way up my left knee.

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At the other end of the ride, the charmer's employer, Peppe, awaits with medication and an invite to enjoy the best yet house specialty, spaghetti mediterraneo, made with fresh anchovies, cherry tomatoes and arugula. Because of my injuries, Peppe receives special dispensation from his wife, the genius at the stove, to share the recipe for me to share in turn.

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And though my favorite sandals are no longer shell-studded and my leg is badly bruised, I learnt today that even slipping and falling can be a good thing in the right place. Oh, and, ladies, I also just found out Adriano is single.

Spaghetti Mediterraneo Spaghetti with fresh anchovies, cherry tomatoes and arugula

for 6 people 1 pound fresh anchovies 1 cup cherry tomatoes 1 to 2 garlic cloves olive oil salt and pepper to taste 1 pound spaghetti 3 generous handfuls wild baby arugula

Clean the anchovies: remove the heads, open in half, remove guts and spine. Quarter the tomatoes. Smash and peel the garlic cloves.

Heat the olive oil with the garlic cloves and as soon as you start smelling the garlic, throw in the tomatoes. Sprinkle to taste with salt and pepper and let the tomatoes cook until they are slightly soft.

Add the anchovies fillets and sauté over lively heat until they change color to whitish silver and are still soft, approximately 3 to 4 minutes.

Lower the spaghetti in boiling water and cook until very al dente, about 4 to 5 minutes less than the time advised on the packaging. Transfer to the pan with the tomatoes and anchovies and, over high heat, add some of the pasta water. Cook until you have received desired toothsomeness, the spaghetti should be quite al dente still.

Finish with olive oil and pour on a platter over which you will have scattered the arugula. Serve immediately.

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