I bet that many of you have an unfair prejudice against anchovies. I lay blame for this at the door of ’80s sitcoms. “Hold the anchovies” was a frequent and unfortunate punch line each time some study-hall-fatigued-teen or dad-left-to-his-own-devices decided to give in and order the pizza with everything on it. But, wait!! Hold the anchovies!!!! (Cue laugh track.)
I grew up loving anchovies, never realizing that they were the same instrument of horror that Charles would never allow on his pizza while he was in charge. In my house, we ordered pizza with alici, or aleech, to be true to our Neaopolitan accent. At some point, my brother took to calling them hairy fish, but only as a greater term of endearment.
Anchovies are a small saltwater fish related to herring. While they can be bought fresh, they are most usually found brined, packed in sea salt, and cured. They are cheap and easy to find. A good place to start is with the nicer jarred anchovy fillets in gourmet markets like Fairway or Whole Foods. If you’re a committed anchovy lover, you should buy the imported ones that come in large vats of salted, umami goodness. My pantry is always stocked with a few tins of anchovy fillets in olive oil, found in any grocery store or bodega, usually next to the canned tuna. If you’re still a little hesitant, consider a few of these ideas:
- Anchovies and greens. Sautee broccoli rabe, kale, or chard with a few fillets. I start my pan with a splash of olive oil, red pepper flakes, and two fillets. They disappear into the oil and leave their flavor behind. Throw in your greens, still wet from being washed to make a little steam, stir, cover, and let them cook down. If you already love the flavor, add a few more anchovies toward the end of cooking and let them fall apart all over your greens. Escarole, nutmeg and anchovies are a heavenly combination.
- Anchovies and pasta sauce. Anchovies create a fantastic base for an al’ olio pasta sauce. Get the olive oil, pepper flakes, and ‘chovies going in the same way as you would for your greens. After your pasta is cooked, throw it in to your pan along with a cup of the pasta water and let it all cook together on low heat for 3-5 minutes. You can also throw in a small can of chickpeas, white beans, or a bunch of spinach leaves.
- Anchovies and chicken sausage. Once again, anchovies serve as your flavorful base. Chicken sausage is low-fat, inexpensive, but kinda eh in flavor. Brown the sausages in a base of olive oil and anchovies and you’ll have something altogether different and wonderful. Add in chopped white cabbage, a dry white wine, salt, pepper, and you’ll have a hearty, satisfying dinner that will be an even better lunch tomorrow.
- Anchovies and pizza. If I’m ordering a good ol’ New York pie from your average pizzeria, I’ll put my own anchovies on top. I don’t like how the pizza oven dries out the oil. Yet, some like them drier. On most pizza menus in Italy, a pizza napoletana has anchovies, black olives, and blobs of mozzarella cheese.
- Anchovy paste and toast. Warning: this is for severe salt fiends like myself. Anchovy paste is sold in tubes in most grocery stores. Often it’s near the pasta sauces, rather than with the canned anchovies. My favorite light breakfast is two slices of rye toast with light layer of butter, and a light layer of anchovy paste. Breakfast of champions!