There are memories that seem to linger in your memory for decades, as clear as the moment you first experienced them. For Suzen and me, a trip to the fish market in Venice is one of those symbolic times. We were there one gray morning, the air cold and smelling of salt and fish, as we wandered among tables and bins filled with the wonders of the seas and rivers surrounding Venice.
Some of the food there was dead, fresh but dead. Some alive and kicking. The technique for dealing with a live eel is something that I will not put on this blog.
We saw enough fish and learned enough recipes on that trip to last us a long, long time. We’ve eaten anchovies in both the North, Venice, and the South, Bari. Grilled, stuffed, and combined with the classic complements like capers, anchovies are a wonder.
This sauce, from Classic Food of Northern Italy, is offered to top off poached skate. But it’s a sauce that has many, many uses. You can this sauce apply to any fish — salmon, trout, … It’s an excellent match for other poached dishes, like chicken or turkey breast. And that baked potato you like to goop up with butter and sour cream, well, here’s a healthy alternative that will put a zing in your mouth.
Anchovies may be small, but pound for pound [or ounce for ounce], they are flavor powerhouses.
This recipe was originally written to accompany the poached skate and called for using 5 ounces of the poaching liquid. If you have some on hand, use that. Otherwise, I’ve modified the recipe to use 5 ounces of dry white wine. The sauce will be different using wine, but still excellent.
Yield: ½ cup
- 1 ounce [2 tablespoons] unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, bruised
- 1 layer of sweet onion
- 2 ounces canned, anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
- 5 fluid ounces of dry white wine
- 2 teaspoons flour
- 3 tablespoons capers
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoons lemon juice
- Freshly ground black pepper
Choose a medium sauté pan, large enough to hold all these ingredients.
Heat the butter and the oil and throw in the garlic and the onion layer. When you begin to smell the aroma of the garlic and onion, fish them out and discard them. Turn the heat down and add the anchovies. Press them against the bottom of the pan to reduce them to a mash.
Mix in the flour and then add 5 fluid ounces of dry white wine. Cook over gentle heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly and adding, if necessary, a little more wine until you get a fluid sauce, similar in consistency to light cream.
Rinse the capers and add to the pan together with the parsley, lemon juice and plenty of pepper. Taste and season to taste
Source: Classic Food of Northern Italy by Anna Del Conte [published 1996]
Yesterday’s post, on capers, mentioned the specialty book Anchovies, Olives and Capers by Georgeanne Brennan. Those three Mediterranean ingredients all have some common characteristics: intensity of flavor, easily recognized flavor, and saltiness from their preparation. What would happen if you combined all three? Well the French asked and answered that question long ago. Here is Brennan’s classic recipe for Tapenade, using anchovies, olives and capers.
Brennan notes that centuries of creative cooks have evolved many recipes for tapenade beyond this basic one. The taste will certainly vary with the olives used. More of this recommended thyme, or still other, herbs can be applied. Ground almonds, bread crumbs, and, I suspect, a secret splash of liquor are also possible additions.
Start with this basic recipe. Spread it on bread, enjoy a hearty red wine with it, and marvel at how three strong ingredients can work together so perfectly.
The saltiness of the three primary ingredients means no additional salt is included in the standard recipe. And the flavors are so intense that pepper is not suggested either. If you do add salt, consider taking your blood pressure.
Yield: 1 cup
1 ½ cups salt-cured black olives, pitted
16 anchovy fillets
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Traditionally, this spread is made with a mortar and pestle, pounding the ingredients until they form a smooth paste. The process can also be accomplished in a blender, however. Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
If you are not using the tapenade immediately, put the puree in a jar, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to three months. [See, that salt can really accomplish something — 3 months!]
If you have refrigerated the tapenade, bring it back to room temperature before serving. It’s interesting if eaten cold, but warmth is needed for the flavors to merge, meld, and emerge sublimely.
Source: Olives, Anchovies, and Capers by Georgeanne Brenna