Months ago, I was flipping through Jamie's Italy, and I came upon a recipe that called for "salt-packed anchovies." Oliver said these were what they used in Sicily, but I knew I hadn't seen them at Whole Foods. What were they exactly? Every anchovy I'd ever seen had come packed in a small tin immersed in oil. But then, a sigh later, my mind and mouth were transported back to July 2010 in Italy's Cinque Terre when I sat in an oceanside restaurant devouring bread topped with anchovies, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and capers, all washed down with a dessert sambuca. Whatever these "more authentic" anchovies were, I needed them.
In November, around my birthday, a few friends asked what I'd like as a gift, and my thoughtful husband responded, "salt-packed anchovies." Not surprisingly, no one got them for me. But then, at Christmas, "Italian Santa" brought me a giant can! I am a notoriously bad present-opener, but I couldn't contain my excitement for my newly acquired culinary ingredient.
Back in Seattle, I pulled out the anchovies and Oliver's recipe for pasta con acciuche e pomodoro. The recipe is full of approximations: "a big handful of raisins," "a large wineglass of red wine." Whose handful? A gigantic American red wine glass? And on top of that, I had to tackle the anchovies. They were kind of scary. Whole, headless, fish.
Once I got over my squeamishness, they weren't too hard to prepare. Chop off the tail, slice down the belly to open them up, and pull out the bones. (If you miss a few bones it's not the end of the world because they're so small that most will disintegrate when they're cooked.) The lack of specifics in the recipe, combined with my inexperience with salt-packed 'chovies, resulted in a dish that was not very good at all. The proportions were off. But the taste was there. Somewhere in there, through the intense saltyness that would have gotten me kicked off Top Chef immediately, there was a hint of an amazing dish.
A few attempts later, I think I've finally got it. The proportions are now quite different from Oliver's, but it's to my liking. And I hope to yours too.
Palermo Pasta with Anchovies, Raisins, and Pine Nuts
Adapted from Jamie Oliver's "pasta con acciughe e pomodoro"
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts
3 Tablespoons tomato purée
2 ounces red wine
6 salt-packed anchovy fillets (or 8 from an oil tin)
½ pound dried pasta (in this case you really do want to splurge on a "fancier" pasta but the type is less important - margarita, bucatini, spaghetti, fettuccine all work well)
Heat oil in large, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Fry garlic slowly. Once garlic is golden brown, add raisins, pine nuts, and anchovies. Continue frying, stiring regularly, for 2 minutes. Add tomato purée and wine and stir well until combined.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Try to time it so the pasta is done at about the same time as the sauce. (Serious Italian cooks tell you that rinsing pasta in cold water ruins it, but I've been known to do it quite frequently. I'm working on my timing.) Add the pasta to the sauce and stir until incorporated. Serve garnished with breadcrumbs (they're missing in the picture below, but the crunch they add is really essential!).
OTHER RECIPES WITH ANCHOVIES I WANT TO TRY
Capellini with a Sauce of Anchovies, Capers, and Fresh Tomatoes
Tonnato Deviled Eggs
Spaghetti with Fried Capers and Anchovies
Pesto di Prezzemolo (Parsley Pesto with Anchovies)