Poor misunderstood anchovies. In America if you ask for a pizza with anchovies most people would crinkle their noses at you. Go ahead, at your next family/friend gathering suggest ordering anchovies on your pizza pie and watch the faces of all who are in disgust, then be replaced by the mask of confusion. “What? Anchovies? Why? Why ruin the pizza? No really, why?” Oh, if they only could be open minded to these lovely little fillets of salty tastiness. It’s fine, there is more for me; however it is just one of the many reasons I find Italy a truly amazing and magical place. Sure they’ve got remarkable landscape, surrounded by beautiful people, ruins, museums, and the best of all—food. But the most wonderful thing happens when I am in Italy. I sit down at a pizzeria and order an anchovy pizza and it is—normal. No appalling looks of revulsion or bewilderment, it is a regular occurrence. And please don’t think that this is the only way anchovies are used in Italy. You have been reading this blog long enough to know that mentioned equals paired with pasta. So let’s move onto a little bit about these little delicacies.
Anchovies are a small, common salt-water fish with about 144 species swimming in the world’s oceans. They are usually salted in brine, matured and then packed in oil. It has been said that in Roman times they were a base for fermented fish sauce called garum. Sounds yummy, right? And I guess at the time it was because supposedly it was a staple of cuisine and an item of long-distance commerce. I researched that one of the most important archaeological sites in Catalonia, Empuries, was the point of entry for anchovies into the Iberian Peninsula for Greek, and then Roman culture, including techniques for preserving fish with salt. From Empuries, the knowledge traveled to Naples and Sicily, which eventually became important fish-salting regions.
Now days in Italy, anchovies are caught during their season, which goes from April to September. They are preserved in tins with salt or olive because, yes, there is actually a demand for them. It is also possible to purchase them fresh at an outside town market when they are in season. Just realize that fresh anchovies do not have the strong taste that the ones in tins do. The curing process gives them that big taste. Fresh anchovies have a much milder flavor.
So help give these poor, misunderstood anchovies a chance. Take a stand as this week’s pasta dish does, Linguine alle Acciughe, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Donna Picciocchi, Editor