A little ways east of town, there’s a “dented can” grocery called Central Discount. It’s always an adventure going there because it involves getting up really early to fight the crowds, and because you never know what sorts of things you’ll find. Last time I was there, I bought a can of anchovies packed in olive oil for 25 cents. At that price, I told myself I could work up the courage to use them in something. And then I got my summer issue of Cooks Illustrated.
I should pause here to say that while I grew up by the gulf coast, I’m not much of a fish fan. I had an allergic reaction to some sort of large fish, probably shark or swordfish, when I was a little girl, and had a great excuse not to eat it thereafter. There were some kinds of fish I’d eat. Tuna (mostly in salad form), salmon (mostly in croquette form), and fish sticks (with mac and cheese on the side). It really wasn’t until I got into college around the time the sushi craze was sweeping the country that I decided I’d try tasting a little more fish. I’m still not a huge fan, but there are some types I’ll eat (and watch out if there’s unagi around–I know, it’s not a fish, but still, it’s adventurous). but anchovies. Those have a certain reputation in the general public which makes them sound repulsive, but a general cache amongst foodies as a worthwhile canned food.
One of the recipes in my CI was for an eggplant and tomato pasta sauce known as Pasta alla Norma, a traditional Sicilian dish. I love eggplant and I enjoy looking for new ways to eat it. But as I read the recipe’s creation and looked over the ingredients, there it was. Anchovies. I decided to go for it–and I was rewarded.
The recipe only calls for a tablespoon worth, finely minced, which when cooked into a sauce of at least five servings is barely noticable amongst the other rich flavors. In fact, even upon opening the can, the anchovies has very little fishy smell. The recipe creation says they were added to give the recipe some “backbone.” Well it worked. This dish was amazing and I’m really looking forward to eating the leftovers.
One of the great things about this dish was how easily it went together. The only prep I had to do before I started cooking was to chop the eggplant. I was able to mince and measure everything else while the eggplant was in various stages of cooking. I even had time to go out to my porch to pick herbs without a delay in the cooking process.
A couple other notes: I didn’t have 6 tablespoons worth of basil on my plant, so I substituted with some fresh oregano and a little dried basil. I thought it was great. The only thing I didn’t really like about this dish was the kind of cheese it called for, ricotta salata. Unlike ricotta, ricotta salata holds it shape so that it can be grated on top. I splurged an bought a small chunk at my local co-op. The cheese has a slightly ammonia undertone that I don’t care for, especially with this dish. There are already so many other flavors, it doesn’t really fit in. This is coming from a person who loves brie, so it’s not that ammonia note itself that I dislike. In the future, I think I’ll try one of CI’s other recommendations for this recipe, pecorino romano or cotija, both cheeses I already know I like.
Overall, I think this recipe is definitely worth picking up a copy of the July/August CI on your local newstand. I still haven’t figured out if it’s a copyright infringement to post the recipe up here.