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Schools of anchovies run twice a year in the Spring and September along the Ligurian Sea. They are cleaned and the innards are removed and layered in mer de sel (sea salt) in cylinder forms along the entire maritime region. Anchovies are the king of the Ligurian Sea.
The tradition of conserving anchovies in salt goes back to ancient times when they provided a stock of food in the cities and because anchovies and salt were used by the fisherman as merchandise to barter.
The quality of the anchovies is very important; they must be very fresh. Remove the heads and the innards, rinse them in running water and dry them with a cloth. Put a layer of salt at the bottom of a round container. Place a layer of anchovies and then a layer of salt paying careful attention to press them one against another until you reach the top. Finish the top with a layer of salt.
Close the top so that it is airtight and put a weight of least 3 km (7 lbs.) on the top. Store them in a cool place controlling them every two days removing any liquid that forms. Let them stay for 40 days and they are ready to eat. At this point if you wish you can scrape the salt off and transfer them into extra virgin oil.
Anchovies are used to flavor meats, sauces, in stuffing’s and stews. They are eaten fresh marinated in oil, fried, on pizza, in salads, and pasta sauce etc. Anchovies add flavor and give a unique aroma to dishes. Often it is not noticeable in a dish and you wonder what it is that gives it a flavor you never seem to be able to achieve in your cooking. Because it was used to salt dishes as stated above, it is still today a main ingredient in Italian cooking. Anchovies are your friend in cooking and will give you a unique advantage in creating that special flavor to your dishes.
I buy them salted, then clean off the salt and store them in a glass container or in a storage bag and keep them in my refrigerator. When using them, take them out and allow the oil to clarify. They have a more pungent flavor then the anchovies already put up in oil in cans. They can be found at most Italian specialty stores. Or buy fresh anchovies and try salting them yourself according to the recipe of San Remo.
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.
Some time ago just after I completed an Italian language program in Bologna, I took a cooking class from a master chef in Puglia Italy. It was a wonderful personal experience to learn some of the recipes of the region and to use my newfound knowledge of Italian. Chef Marco also knew that I was writing a cookbook about my family recipes who came from the region. He gave me about 30 recipes from chefs throughout Gargano and told me that I could publish them. One of these recipes was his family recipe for Calzone con Cipolla. I have been making it ever since and it is an impressive and delicious luncheon for friends.
Chef Marco had a staff of 4 chefs who taught my husband and I a number of local dishes and to my surprise some were my family recipes that hadn’t changed at all after 3 generations living in the US. My family has been in the food and restaurant business and I expected that some of these recipes would have been Americanized. There were also many that I had never had before and have now brought them back into our family collection of recipes.
Calzone con Cipolla
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes @ 425ºF
Yield: 4 servings
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk, a little water
Beat eggs, oil and water. Sift the flour, and baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the egg mixture. Stir with a folk until blended (the dough can be made in a food processor). Turn the dough onto a lightly floured pastry board. Mix well and knead until the dough is shinny. Cover the dough for 10 minutes.
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. onions, sliced
4 anchovies, chopped
8 green olives, sliced
1 teaspoon capers, drained and rinsed
Nutmeg, a few grinds
Salt to taste, because there are anchovies in the recipe, taste the onions and determine if the recipe needs more salt before adding it.
Clean and cut the onions in large pieces and cook them well-set aside to cool. Rinse the capers under cold water to remove the brine. Slice the olives.
Roll out the dough, which can be done in 4 calzone, or in 2 large rounds or even several smaller ones. Layer the onions onto the dough. Sprinkle the anchovies, capers, olives and a few grinds of nutmeg on top of the onions. Fold the dough over the top forming an envelope. Crimp the dough on all sides. Brush the top with the egg wash.
Cook in a very hot oven for 20 minutes or more. It is best to cook the calzone on a pizza stone; it will come out very crispy. Check the bottom of the calzone; if it is brown and the top is golden it is done. It is possible that it can take longer then 20 minutes.