The smaller the fish, the less heavy metals, because small fish don’t live as long as big fish and so they don’t accumulate much in the metals department. This is why I go for sardines and anchovies—well, not the only reason.
Both little fishes are healthy, too, for their polyunsaturated fatty acids, high protein to weight ratio, and their mineral content. It is, however, their taste that is truly appealing: sardines are wonderful grilled and both sardines and anchovies make terrific additions to a pasta sauce. The sardines need no tomato; just some olive oil and herbs. The anchovies like a little tomato.
The problem with sardines is that we can’t always get the fresh Mediterranean ones. The canned ones are of course useless for grilling, but they can be used in sauce. Yet, canned anchovies are much better for sauce; they add a lot more flavor and their bones are truly edible.
Here’s how I do an anchovies sauce for pasta for two.
It takes no more than two cans of flat anchovies—no capers. I drain the olive oil because it is too salty for me.
Since we haven’t any fresh basil right now, and since I hate dried basil for its blandness, I get two of my basil ice cubes from the freezer (at the end of each summer, I puree basil in olive oil and freeze the mix in ice cube trays to use throughout the winter for cooking and for pesto).
Throw the basil ice cubes into a large stainless pan on low flame.
Chop two shallots and sauté for a minute; chop two garlic cloves add to the shallots and sauté for a minute, then pour about 1/4 cup of sweet wine such as Marsala and simmer for a minute while stirring.
Add the tomato puree, the anchovies, 1/2 cup chicken or fish stock (I always keep some of my own stock frozen), two bay leaves, and a small cayenne chopped up finely (I keep these in the freezer too, from my garden peppers).
Stir everything up nicely and let simmer on low flame for five minutes and then stir again, give another five minutes and then cover the pan and bring the flame to its lowest possible point.
Boil water for pasta for two however you normally do that (some add salt and olive oil to the water, etc.).
For this dish, I use either cheese ravioli or penne with grated Grana Padano cheese for topping. Either one is fine, or any other pasta will do, really.
When the pasta is cooked (about 8 or 9 minutes) drain and then lift the cover from the sauce and get rid of the steam and liquid that distilled in the cover. Add the pasta to the sauce, turn off the flame, stir for a few minutes, and serve, topped with chopped parsley.
The wine I drink with this dish varies, but it is normally a Mediterranean red of some sort. For my most recent anchovies sauce over ravioli, last night, I paired with Sella and Mosca 2005 Cannonau Di Sardegna Riserva ($12). It’s a perfect earthy wine for this elemental dish.
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Copyright Thomas Pellechia
March 2010. All rights reserved.