CASA’s Maria Broadbent extols the virtues of a small fish that packs a flavour punch and shares some tasty recipes for us to try
Those little brown salty strong-flavoured fillets of fish in a tin, you may say? Did you also know they show up at the table as small white marinated fillets of fish with a distinctive yet mild flavour? The two different ways of preserving these versatile fish are so different they are barely distant cousins. The anchovy is a small forage fish found in saltwater, brackish water and in some cases fresh water.
They are found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, plus the Black and Mediterranean Sea. There are 140 different species and the best ones are alleged to come from the Mediterranean.
Let’s start with the more familiar salted brown version. The fish are carefully filleted and packed into tins (or jars) and salted, the tins are then topped up with oil. The tins are often very strikingly designed and evocative of the passion behind Mediterranean cooking. Salted anchovies are
rarely eaten on their own, but appear as an addition to salads and atop a pizza or a French pissaladiere perhaps. Where they come into their own is as an ingredient as they bring a huge punch of flavour to any dish they are incorporated into.
They are, for instance, a key ingredient in a Caesar Salad Dressing, Pasta Puttanesca, Beef Olives and my own creamy seafood sauce. For me they are a great store cupboard ingredient and once open will keep well in the fridge. In my mind they fit into the same category as capers, chilli flakes, garlic, parsley and olives – ingredients that can transform tinned tomatoes or mayonnaise. In fact, my Pasta Putanesca recipe, seen here, uses all of these store cupboard ingredients.
3 tablespoons of a good olive oil
1 white onion or 2 shallots, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed, use fresh not preserved as the flavour is so much better
½ teaspoon chilli flakes
400g tin chopped tomatoes – buy the better quality ones, it is worth it for this
5 anchovies, chopped
120g pitted black olives, chopped
300g capers, drained
300g dried pasta – spaghetti is best and the traditional type for this sauce
A good handful of chopped parsley (preferably flat leaf, coarsely chopped)
Heat the oil gently in a non-stick pan and gently fry the onion with a generous pinch of salt for about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further minute – don’t let the garlic ‘catch’ as it will taste bitter.
Add the tomatoes, anchovies, olives and capers. Continue to cook for a further 15 minutes, this allows the flavours to develop. Adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper. This will happily keep in the fridge for 3 days and will actually improve after 24 hours.
When ready to eat, cook your pasta as per packet instructions. Reheat the sauce if necessary and mix the cooked pasta into the sauce, tossing in the chopped parsley.
MARIA’S SEAFOOD SAUCE
(for pasta or as a warm salad)
4 anchovies and a little oil from the tin or jar
2 teaspoons tomato purée
150ml double cream
Handful chopped parsley
½ lime, juiced
Put the anchovies and the anchovy oil in a pan and heat gently, pushing the anchovies against the sides to break them up. Mix in the tomato purée and add the cream and cook until the cream has reduced a little. Add the parsley.
Cook some prawns and salmon pieces, add to hot cooked pasta and stir this sauce through.
Make a salad of mixed leaves, mangetout, spring onions and hot smoked salmon – use the sauce warm as a dressing.
Sprinkle with more chopped parsley and a wedge of lime.
CAESAR SALAD RECIPE
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 anchovies from a tin, pulverised!
Handful grated parmesan
5 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
For the salad, the quantities are very much personal preference, so use whatever ratio suits your taste! You can also add cooked chicken as this makes a full meal then.
Hearts of romaine
Parmesan grated and shavings
Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together. If you make a slightly larger quantity, it will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge, you can blitz in a food processor or with a stick blender.
For the salad, wash the leaves and rip them into mouth-size pieces. Do not cut them as the lettuce goes brown much more quickly.
Toss the leaves in half the dressing and mix in some grated parmesan.
Add the anchovies, bacon, croutons – mix again.
Drizzle the remaining dressing over and top with the parmesan shavings.
Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Call 01284 701313