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Anchovies are used to flavor many dishes in Italy from pasta’s to meats and stews. Their pungent salty flavor gives a special twist to a dish that is sometimes hard to identify. It is that flavor that you search for that makes a dish different and you wonder why yours doesn’t taste the same.
Anchovies are in the herring family and are usually sold packed in olive oil or salted but in Italy they are also often found fresh marinated in olive oil and herbs. They are widely used throughout the Mediterranean.
If buying them packed in salt, remove some of the salt by running the felts under water. Put them in a zip lock bag with extra virgin olive oil. They will last a long time if you keep them topped with olive oil. I use the oil to flavor pasta dishes and also to make salsa di acciughe served over linguini or spaghetti.
Whether they are mashed with garlic and spread over crostini or a few felts mixed in with a stew, you will immediately taste the difference.
The recipe for Linguini con salsa di acciughe is found in many parts of Italy but often not on many restaurant menus’. It is the primo piatto of my family’s Christmas Eve dinner along with mixed fried fish or as the Italians say “Peci Fritti” and Biscotti for dessert.
In the South raisins are added giving the sauce a slightly sweet flavor. Olives, capers or toasted breadcrumbs and toasted pignoli can also be added.
Linguine con salsa di acciughe
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 6 Servings
1/2 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves chopped
10 flat anchovies, (salted dry anchovies are stronger)
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups water
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 small pepperoncino or red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1 1/2 lbs. Linguini
Salt to taste (before adding salt taste the sauce)
Run cold water over the salted anchovies and remove as much salt as possible. Place them in a container and cover them with olive oil. You can keep them in olive oil for a few weeks.
Cook the garlic and sauté it in the stored anchovy olive oil (if using canned anchovies in olive oil use this oil). Do not burn the garlic; cook on low heat for a minute. Chop the anchovies and add them to the pan, stir with a spoon. When the anchovies have dissolved, add the dried red pepper broken in half and wine. Grind black pepper to your taste. Do not add salt until you have tasted the sauce, usually it doesn’t need additional salt. The anchovies, even though washed still are very salty. Add 2 cups of water and allow it to cook on medium heat for 10 minutes. The anchovies will dissolve in the cooking process. You may have to add additional water to dilute the sauce if it is too salty.
Raisins are added in the South of Italy, and I find that they give the sauce a nice slightly sweet flavor. If you choose to add them, hydrate them in the wine and add them at the same time.
Cook the pasta in boiling unsalted water (check the sauce, it may have enough salt) until it still has a bite, strain it and add it to the sauce. Allow it to continue cooking in the sauce until al dente.
Add whatever ingredients listed below if desired. Allow the cooked pasta to absorb the sauce for several minutes before serving.
Note: Anchovies are used in Italy to flavor many dishes from sauces to roasts.
Note: Red pepper flakes can be sprinkled over the top by each person, if you prefer not to add pepperoncino into the sauce.
Note: The sauce can be strained or the anchovies can be left in the sauce. If you strain the anchovies, serve them in a small bowl so that your guests can add some back if desired. It is also very good spread on toasted bread (anchovy paste bruscchetta).
Note: Black olives and/or raisins can be added to the sauce if you desire a sweeter flavor; toasted pignoli nuts (pine nuts), toasted breadcrumbs and capers are often added to this dish in the south of Italy.
Although Linguini with anchovy sauce is served year round in Italy, it is always served in our family as part of our Christmas Eve dinner.