By Russ Parsons,
June 19, 2013
Once many years ago I came across a fish vendor at the farmers market with a whole tray full of beautiful fresh anchovies. On a sudden impulse, I bought them all. Real anchovies, the ones that have been packed in salt to last, are an essential flavoring, the garlic of the sea and much better than the oil-packed.
And then I repented at leisure, trying to figure out what I was going to do with them. Apparently preparing your own salted anchovies is something that had not occurred to many cookbook writers. I searched through a dozen books trying to find a method before I came to a rough description of a poor Greek fisherman preparing them in one of my favorite cookbooks, Patience Gray's "Honey From a Weed."
"Assisted by his children and a gallon bottle of amber wine, he pulled the heads off the fish which at the same time removed the guts, and laid the fish neatly in the petrol cans, alternating each layer with a layer of salt and finally putting a weighted board on top. In this way he provided himself and his large family with supper throughout the winter."
Thus inspired, I spent the next couple of hours carefully pulling the heads and guts out of several pounds of 2-inch fish and arranging them neatly between layers of kosher salt. In the end, I had enough salted anchovies to last a year, but I promise you it made the $10 or so you'll spend for a pound of the store-bought ones feel like a grand bargain.
Though there are dishes in which salted anchovies star, such as the Piedmontese anchovy-garlic dip bagna cauda, most often they're happy to stay in the background, lending a deep savoriness that is absolutely necessary to the success of the recipe even if its source remains anonymous.
One of my favorite ways to use anchovies is in roast lamb: Stud the leg with a bouquet of anchovy, garlic and rosemary, and the flavors melt into the meat. The other night I was fixing eggplant for the grill and wondered about doing the same thing. I cut slits into thick slabs of eggplant and inserted thinly sliced garlic, a little slip of salted anchovy and a sprig of rosemary. Yowza.
Salted anchovies are also the foundation for salsa verde, a varied mash of anchovies, garlic, capers and green herbs thinned with olive oil. Try it as a sauce for grilled fish, or steamed or grilled asparagus.
Grilled eggplant with anchovies, garlic and rosemary
Prep: 38 minutes
Cook: 7 minutes
Note: Look for salted anchovies at Italian groceries or delis or the deli or cheese department of a gourmet grocery. They are most often sold in large cans, 1 1/2 pounds or more.
3 salted anchovies (6 fillets)
6 cloves garlic
1 cup olive oil, plus more if necessary
2 large (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds) round eggplants,
2 long branches fresh rosemary
1. Rinse the anchovies under running water to remove excess salt; soak in water to cover in a small bowl until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove the fillets, discard the skeletons and soak another 5 minutes until flexible. Cut into approximately half-inch crosswise pieces.
2. Slice the garlic crosswise as thin as you can. Reserve the tops, bottoms and odd-shaped pieces in a bowl; cover with olive oil. Cut the eggplants into 1-inch-thick crosswise slices.
3. Working with one slice at a time, cut 5 shallow slits into the eggplant — four at the compass points and one in the center; they should be about one-half-inch deep and should not go all the way through.
4. Insert a garlic slice in each of the slits (if necessary, widen the slit by wiggling a paring knife in it). Insert a piece of anchovy in each slit. Finally, insert a tuft of rosemary in each slit. The fillings should be as close to flush with the surface as you can make them. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices. Sprinkle both sides of each eggplant slice with salt; brush generously with the garlic olive oil.
5. Grill over a moderate fire until browned on one side, 4-5 minutes. Brush with more olive oil; turn to the other side. Brush that with oil as well. Continue cooking and brushing with oil until the eggplant is browned on both sides and tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove to a platter, brush with any remaining oil and serve.
Per serving: 283 calories, 28 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 10 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 59 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.
Prep: 10 minutes
1 salted anchovy (2 fillets)
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed thoroughly if salted
1/2 cup mixed green herbs, at least half parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1. Rinse and soak the anchovies as before; chop coarsely.
2. Pound the garlic with the salt to a smooth paste with a mortar and pestle. Add the capers and anchovy; pound to a coarse paste. Add the herbs; pound to a paste. Starting with just a little at a time, add the olive oil, stirring with the pestle to make a smooth emulsion. Stir in the vinegar. Taste; adjust salt and vinegar.
In a blender or food processor: Pulse anchovies, garlic, capers and herbs to a coarse paste. With the machine running, slowly stream in the olive oil. Stir in the vinegar; add salt to taste.
Per serving: 124 calories, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, 301 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
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