Sunday, March 20, 2011

0 Recipe #252: Acciughe Marinate in Salsa Verde (Marinated Anchovies in Green Sauce)

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Acciughe con salsa verde, or anchovies in green sauce, is an old Italian classic, originally hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy. In Italy, this zesty, brightly colored appetizer (or antipasto) is typically accompanied by slices of fresh bread (or crostini) and an assortment of other antipasti, and of course, is washed down with some fantastic, locally produced wine. :) From what I can discern, generally speaking, it seems that this dish is much better known in Italy (and other regions of Europe) than it is here in America.

Given people's tendency to have strong (and often rather polarizing!) opinions about anchovies, I realize that some of you will probably love this recipe while others of you will probably think to yourselves, "Blech." ;) Oh well, can't please everybody. ;) Just like any recipe blog, there are going to be some recipes that are going to thrill you & make you jump for joy while there might be others that send you running into the hills. Of course, it's my hope that the majority of the recipes here will make you want to do the former. :)

If you don't care for anchovies, you can always skip them. The green sauce still makes a great antipasto when served with fresh bread or crostini. For additional flavor, you can sprinkle some Parmesan cheese onto the bread, so that it melts onto the crostini, and then add the green sauce on top. Or, use the sauce as a marinade or topping for fish (or other seafood), chicken, veal, rack of lamb, or pasta; this sauce will really add some zing to whatever it's accompanying. Its bright green color will also really add a lot of visual appeal as well.

The nice thing about this dish is that there's no cooking required. So, that means that the nutrients of all the ingredients are retained. Also, that means there's one less step to do. :) Basically, to make the sauce, you just toss everything into a food processor -- minus the anchovies and the bread, of course -- and you're done. You can have it ready in a matter of minutes.

If you're looking for an easy, yet elegant appetizer to serve as an hors d'œuvres platter -- whether for cocktail hour, a dinner party, or other festive occasion -- this recipe will definitely fit the bill.

This recipe goes out to my pal, Meg, who loves anchovies (and all manner of seafood for that matter!) just as much as I do. :)

Acciughe in Salsa Verde (Marinated Anchovies in Green Sauce)

2 oz. can (Sicilian) filleted anchovies, packed in salt (and olive oil), drained & rinsed (about 12 anchovy fillets, i.e., 12 halves)
1/2 c. milk (for soaking the anchovies)
1/4 c. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped & densely packed
1/8 c. fresh basil, minced, roughly chopped & densely packed
1/2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves, densely packed
1 tsp. fresh marjoram leaves, densely packed
3/4 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1/8 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
1/16 tsp. (a pinch) ground black pepper, or to to taste
1/16 tsp. (a pinch) crushed red chili pepper flakes
1 1/2 Tbsp. (unsweetened) gherkins, chopped (about 3 small gherkins)
1/2 tsp. capers, rinsed & soaked in 2 Tbsp. lukewarm water for 10 minutes, drained (about 4 large capers)
3/4 tsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1 Tbsp. red onion, finely chopped
1/2 hard boiled egg yolk, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 (or more) slices rustic/artisanal, Italian bread, toasted (i.e, crostini) (I used Italian sourdough bread)

Directions: In a small bowl, soak anchovies in milk for 15 minutes, & set aside. In a food processor, add all of the ingredients -- except for the anchovies and bread -- and pulse until just combined, but be sure to leave mixture a little chunky. Drain and rinse off anchovies, and then pat them dry with a paper towel. Place a third of the sauce into a deep medium-sized bowl (or a jar, if you won't be serving them right away), following by a third of the anchovies, and repeat process (twice) until you've complete all 6 layers. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until serving time. (Don't be too concerned about the olive oil congealing in the fridge, as it'll melt again once the dish is taken out and allowed to reach room temperature.) An hour before serving time, remove from refrigerator to let it reach room temperature. Serve with crostini, and refrigerate any leftovers in a sealed container. (Mixture will keep for about a week.)

Yield: Makes about 1/2 c., or 4-6 appetizer-size servings. That works out to be about 2-3 anchovies per person.

Chef's Notes: Preparing the green sauce: When making the sauce, the traditional preparation is to chop all of the ingredients by hand, in order to yield a chunky consistency. Of course, you're welcome to prepare the sauce in this manner, but of course, it'll save you a lot of time if you use a food processor instead. :)

Fresh vs. canned anchovies: In Italian, acciughe means anchovies, but alici refers specifically to fresh anchovies, which are milder than the canned variety. Many of you already know that I will list/use fresh, whole/natural ingredients (over dried, canned, & frozen, etc.) for my recipes whenever possible. (I also make a point of avoiding man-made chemicals and heavily processed foods too, i.e., Cheese Whiz and the like. The less additives the better. My body is not a lab experiment, thank you very much. ;) ) However, since I was unable to find fresh anchovies, I had to resort to using the canned stuff, which, of course, is much easier to find. :)

Selecting & preparing canned anchovies: If you only can find canned anchovies, choose high-quality, salt-cured ones that have been packed in olive oil, preferably the Sicilian kind, if available. Please note that, in this particular recipe, a few measures have been taken to reduce the "fishiness" of the anchovies: They are first soaked in milk, then drained, rinsed, and marinated in the green sauce. The sauce contains lemon juice, a known seafood "cleanser." [The acids in the lemon juice react with, and essentially neutralize, the bases found in the seafood's volatile amines, i.e., organic chemical compounds such as di- and trimethylamine, which are responsible for producing the "fishy" smell of seafood. These amines start forming as soon as the fish is plucked out of the sea, and exposure to air (oxidation) hastens their production. This is why fish should always be refrigerated, frozen, salt-cured, or otherwise preserved before it's consumed. And this is of course why fresh fish should of course be consumed right away, and also explains why fresh fish should never smell overly "fishy." :) However, preserved fish (i.e., canned anchovies, etc.) can sometimes still be a bit fishy-tasting due to the fact that the preservation process itself takes a bit of time to complete, and so a certain, albeit probably very small, amount of volatile amines form during processing, i.e., before they are preserved.]

Availability of fresh anchovies: Depending on where you live, fresh anchovies might either be easy to find or hard by come by. Of course, I'd personally rather use fresh anchovies over the canned stuff, but even here in a large metropolitan area like DC, it can take a lot of legwork to find them.

Local DC resources: I cast a wide net, searching far and wide for fresh anchovies, but couldn't seem to find them anywhere, and I live in a large metropolitan area! I really did want to use fresh anchovies for this recipe, and so, believe me, I looked really long and hard for them too. I first checked online to find some good local resources (Chowhound is typically a great resource for locating specialty foods), and then called several supermarkets and specialty markets -- including Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Grand Mart, and Cameron's Seafood Market, etc. A good number of them put the phone down to go and check, but in the end, they all gave me the same answer: "Sorry, but we don't carry fresh anchovies." I also called small specialty markets and delis like Angelo's in Silver Spring and the Italian Store in Arlington. Vace's in Bethesda said they had them, but they only carried ones that were already marinated in oil. The last place I called, A & H (also in Bethesda, as well as Cleveland Park), wasn't picking up their phone & there's no way I was going to trek all the out way there and subject myself to those crazy, eternal Bethesda traffic jams (!) without a phone call first to confirm. ;) I haven't checked the fish market in SW DC or Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown, but these might also be some other good resources as well.

Addenum (added 3/21/11): I just found out that A & H, actually does carry fresh, salted anchovies, but of course, by now, I've already created the recipe, prepared the dish, and taken all of the photos. ;) Oh well, there's always a next time. :) (A & H was the last place I checked, and in my haste to call the last resource on my list, I'd only been  focused on getting one piece of information, their telephone number. So, I didn't even think to check their website for specialty product information, like I'd done for some of the other places, etc. Oops.)

Making this dish with fresh anchovies: If you are lucky enough to be able to find fresh anchovies, by all means use them for this recipe. Please see below for instructions on how to select, prepare, and cook fresh anchovies.

Selecting fresh anchovies: For this particular recipe, salted fresh anchovies would be ideal. You'll still need to soak them a bit to release some of the salt before they are added to the green sauce. (Don't worry; they'll still retain their salty flavor.) For detailed information on how to select/buy fresh anchovies, please see here and here. Since the canned anchovies are already filleted and butterflied, you will need about 6 fresh anchovies for this particular recipe.

Preparing fresh anchovies: The easiest thing to do is have the fish market clean, gut, and fillet them for you. If, for some reason, you don't have this option or would like to try your hand at it yourself, a how-to guide for cleaning (removing the scales & gutting) can be found here. See here (i.e., the one chosen as "Best Answer") for filleting intructions. And lastly, for video instructions on how to clean and fillet anchovies, check out these instructions.

Cooking fresh anchovies: Before handling fresh anchovies (or any fish for that matter), make sure your hands are clean. Always rinse off fresh anchovies, and then wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water before cooking with them. Just as you'd handle meat, never reuse any surface that's touched the fish for the preparation of other ingredients. For health and safety reasons, it's very important to practice the proper handling of meat to avoid cross-contamination.

The traditional Italian way to prepare this recipe is to "cold cook" the anchovies. The acid in the lemon juice will "cold cook" the fish and kill off the volatile amines as mentioned above. However, if you don't feel comfortable consuming "cold cooked" fish, you can cook them in a nonstick pan with some extra virgin olive oil and a large bay leaf. If you're going for some real old-school authenticity, you can also deglaze the pan with some chicken broth. Since premium-quality alici are very small, they only need to be cooked for a few minutes per side over medium heat. Fresh anchovies can also be boiled, which takes approximately two minutes or so. (I personally prefer sautéing them.)

Variations: Another traditional way to serve this dish is to serve it with little bits of bread that've first been soaked in vinegar. To do this, soak 1 (additional) slice of bread in 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar for about 15 minutes or so, then squeeze out the excess liquid, finely chop the bread into bite-sized pieces, and then finally, add these little bits to the sauce.

Another, albeit less traditional, option would be to add 1/2 c. fresh, uncooked, loosely-packed, chopped baby spinach to the above recipe. This addition will also make the sauce a bit milder as well.

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