Getting Salty with Anchovies

I get excited by shiny new toys in the kitchen.  Not so much when it comes to gadgets, though I do love an ergonomic vegetable peeler as much as the next guy. For me, it’s all about the premium ingredient.

And so, it was with very little apprehension that I handed over a not insignificant sum of money for a tin of what I have long been told is the crown prince of Italian umami.  Yep, you’re talking to the proud owner of more than a pound of salted anchovies.

It is a given in every Italian cookbook that you’ll encounter a section on ingredients that urges you to skip the small tins of oil-packed anchovies for their superior salt-cured cousins.  Now that I have caved and made the investment, I have to admit…it is a better product.

Yes, they’re a bit more work, as you have to clean and fillet them off the tiny bones, but we’re talking a minute’s worth of effort using your paring knife, followed by a quick rinse to remove the excess salt.  The result is a good-sized and fresher looking anchovy.  The flavor…well, I would compare it to the taste of iodized table salt versus sea or kosher salt.  The inferior option includes the main taste of the ingredient, but it also brings along a number of off-putting notes.

Interestingly, in the case of both table salt and oil-packed anchovies, it’s a tinny, metallic flavor, and I have a strong feeling that it’s what people who “don’t like anchovies” are really reacting to.  Salt-packed are subtler and have a truer, more pleasing “ocean” flavor.”

What’s the best way to showcase these beauties?  How about…

Farfalle and Broccoli in an Anchovy Garlic Sauce

1 lb. farfalle or other short pasta
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3 or 4 whole salt-packed anchovies, filleted and rinsed, then chopped finely
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste

First off, save yourself some time and microwave the broccoli in a dish with some water for a minute and half.  Yes, it’s cheating, but I’m telling you it’s OK.

Cook the pasta according to directions. In a 12” pan, bring oil up to temperature over medium heat and add butter. When foaming subsides, add the anchovies, mashing them against the pan with a spoon. After half a minute, add the garlic and continue stirring to avoid burning. After another half a minute, drain and add the broccoli, stirring in order to coat with the oil/butter mixture.

Once coated, add two ladles full of the starchy pasta water to the pan and keep at a simmer until pasta is nearly al dente. When the pasta has about a minute’s worth of cooking left to do, transfer it to the pan and add any additional pasta water to form a sauce. Cook for one more minute, adjust flavor with salt and pepper and serve in warmed bowls.

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