by Douglas Abrams
Yes, they look gross. I’ll admit that. But I won’t agree with any of the other nasty stereotypes that have befallen these little flavor machines. And even if you can’t stand them that’s not a problem, as anchovies dissolve in oil and can even disappear completely.
One way I like to use anchovies it to make a pasta puttanesca. Start by sauteing three cloves of garlic for one minute. Then, add in two anchovy fillets (I just use canned), and stir and crush them into the oil until they are dissolved and the oil is light brown. To the flavorful oil, add a minced spanish onion, salt and pepper, and a teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes for a gentle kick of flavor.
Add a couple of spoonfuls of capers to the hot oil and cook them until they pop and burst like popcorn. I usually just use capers packed in a brine, but it’s fine to use capers packed in salt. If you use salt-packed just make sure that you rinse off any of the excess salt from the cappers. Finish the oil by adding in a couple of spoonfuls of seeded kalamata olives.
I think Kalamata olives are the best choice for this dish because they are not as salty as some kinds of green olives and they have a fruity aroma that adds complexity to the sauce.
Next, add two cans of crushed tomatoes. Let the sauce simmer on medium heat for 15 or so minutes until it is reduced and takes on a deep red color. Serve over pasta with a good amount of fresh parsley to counter the richness of the sauce.
The anchovies are really the secret to this dish. Dissolved in the oil, they provide a deep, salty, nutty flavor that is the backbone for the whole sauce. It counters the bright acidity of the tomatoes and it adds a real depth of flavor.
Please, don’t just write off anchovies. I know they don’t look pretty, but they add a level of complexity to puttanesca and other dishes that makes them spectacular.