(I was about to schedule this post last night when once again I heard police helicopters circulating above my house and sirens. A week ago they would be heading to the hospital with a Covid 19 patient. Instead they sped west toward the nearby neighborhood of Flatbush where protests flare. Anchovies and cats suddenly seemed wildly inappropriate. I stayed up late trying to write something that would measure up to this fraught historic moment in our our lives and that of our country. I found, though, I didn’t have much more to add than what I wrote the day before confessing to the contribution of my personal ingrain racism. The anger, frustration and despair running in our streets go only so far. Real change won’t happen unless we all own up and take responsibility. I realize how hard it will be, halting and probably at times not enough–never enough–but to not consciously try will only allow destructive repetition rather than healing. That’s all I wanted to stay. The helicopters and sirens finally silenced. I hope tonight will be different.)
And so, now, on a new morning, the saga of anchovies and cats….
Slim, tiny anchovies are one of those foods that are either beloved or despised. I know some people who’ll pluck them from a bottle and eat like popcorn while watching TV. Others gag. There’s no obvious outward indication what a person feels about anchovies until mentioned or presented, although culinary heritage may present a clue to how they lean.
I love them and generally have several little bottles or tins of fillets packed in oil in the cupboard. Sometimes, if the nearby Greek market has a catch, there’s also a box of whole anchovies preserved in salt in the refrigerator. They lattice pizzas, flavor pasta sauces and pounded into paste for an appetizer or dip. The husband doesn’t quite share my passion. There’s not many deal breakers left in our relationship but his total revolt of anchovies may have presented a challenge since I am of the “I don’t care if you go hungry if you don’t like what I’m serving” school of cooking.
Right now, though, there isn’t a single anchovy in my kitchen. They’ve all gone to catching our cat who’s been missing for five days. He’s a former rescue and psychotic as hell. I borrowed a catch cage from our vet and followed directions on what to use as bait but none have succeeded in enticing him anywhere near it except for anchovies. After that discovery, I’ve placed a couple on plates before the cage’s entrance and dangled some fillets from it’s roof. Last night I soaked the treats he love in anchovy juice and scattered them inside. He slinks right up to the entrance but no further. I’ve gone through approximately $18 worth of imported Italian, Greek and Spanish brands. Today I have to risk my life to go to the market and buy more. Already hiding under the bed with what’s currently happening in the world, I don’t need this extra layer of stress.
I hate this cat.
I’m not a fanatic cat person but they’ve always been family members–rescues, strays, ASPCA adopted, litter handouts. I’ve tolerated clawed furniture, spray-crusted bookbinding and paintings. One chewed the back off my wedding shoes and another decided a vintage cashmere sweater made a fine nest and developed a maddening ability to sniff out wherever I hid it.
This one, though, tops them all. An unsocialized mess when the vet insisted I was the only one who could handle him, I spent seven months of intense cat therapy coaxing him out of hiding behind a book shelf. Four years later, he’s just begun to purr pressed by my side, two contented souls. Now he’s at the end of the driveway and I don’t have any anchovies left.
When I go to the market I will spend a fortune procuring some for him and me. Tonight I will reduce several to a paste and, once again, smear it over the trap cage. I’ll lay a couple more on a paper plate to place before the door. Others will freshen the ones near the trip plate and dangle from the cage’s roof.
Then I’ll go back and cook one of these recipes.
How to Preserve Fresh Anchovies
Consider this recipe if you find fresh anchovies. It may seem like a lot of work but it makes such a big difference over using bottled or canned.
Whole salt-cured anchovies*
A good quality olive oil
Rinse the anchovies quickly in cold running water. Wipe with paper towels then lay them on new paper towels or a paper bag.
Grasp each by the tail, gently scrape off its skin with a knife. Remove the dorsal fine and the bones attached to it. Using a knife, separate the anchovy into two halves and remove the spine.
Place the anchovies in a single layer in a shallow dish and cover with olive oil. You can build up several layers in the same dish, but make sure they are completely covered with oil. Refrigerate. They will keep for 10 days to 2 weeks.
*A 1/2 pound will be enough for about four servings.
(A Medieval Provençal recipe perfect for serving as an appetizer)
1 package frozen pasta, defrosted
2/3 cup chopped imported black olives
12 anchovy fillets, rinsed
1 large egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
On a floured surface, roll out the sheet of puff pastry to an 11 x 14 inch rectangle. Cut each in half lengthwise. Fold the four pieces in half and cut out two triangles on top and bottom to form an N.
Mix together the olives and anchovies and spread over the pastry sheet. Fold up the corners, crimping the edges. Place on a baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg.
Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly on a wire rack and serve.
Greek Fried Anchovies
2 pounds fresh anchovies
About 1 cup of flour
Olive oil to fry
Lemon juice to sprinkle on top
If you’ve bought the anchovies with their heads on and uncleaned, the guts will come out when you pull off the heads. Wash the anchovies and dry on a paper towel.
In a large bowl, mix the flour with a little more salt. Dredge the anchovies in the flour, shaking off any extra.
Heat the olive oil and fry until golden crispy.
Drain well on paper towel or newspaper.
Serve with some lemon juice.
Broccoli and Anchovy Pasta Sauce
2 cups fresh broccoli florets
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 large or 8 medium flat anchovy fillets, washed and chopped
Fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter
6 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons freshly grated Romano pecorino cheese
Bring 2 quarts of water to boil, add salt and the broccoli florets. Cover and cook until tender but still have a little crunch. Drain and set aside.
Pour oil in a skillet with the chopped anchovies. Cook over medium heat, mashing the anchovies with a wooden spoon until they dissolve into a paste. Add the broccoli florets and pepper. Saute the broccoli in the anchovy sauce for about 4 or 5 minutes. Taste and correct salt.
Add the sauce to cooked pasta along with the butter and the grated cheeses. Mix thoroughly into the pasta.
The original recipe calls for orecchiette but the sauce is incredible when used for all pasta shapes.