I once thought of anchovies as those worm-like unpleasantly-fishy squiggles to be picked off pizza. When I moved to Italy everything changed. I was introduced to fresh anchovies, marinated with lemon, showered with extra virgin, sprinkled with parsley, totally unlike my previous encounters. It was only a short gastronomic leap to quality cured anchovies and an anchovy-curing liquid known as colatura. I was hooked. I visited Aspra and Sciacca in Sicily, Cetara and Marina di Pisciotta in Campania to learn all about my favorite fish from Italian waters.
I’m in love with Massimo Ballestrieri’s anchovy museum in Aspra, room after room of anchovy-centric objects—marine taxidermy, displays with mannequins and boats, artistically stacked tins, photo documentation, fishing nets, traps and lamps. His beautiful anchovy fillets are a far cry from the ordinary. The graphics on the 5 kg tins are stupendous but I find it far easier to deal with the less attractive plastic triangles, you can buy fiftly 80 gram packs in a 4 kg tin. Convince a shop or restaurant to buy them and share if you can’t deal with quantity.
Angelo Pumilia, fantastic chef from the fantastic Planeta Foresteria, not far from Sciacca, introduced me to cured anchovies from Carlino. I adore the barchetta, a patented plastic “little boat” with 80 grams of anchovy fillets under oil.
Pasquale Torrente is the anchovy king of Cetara and beyond. His restaurant Al Convento and nearby seasonal take-out shop Cuopperia overlooking the sea have spawned Burro e Alici in Erbusco, Lombardia. All feature anchovies and colatura preparations. Anchovy-obsessives like me should make a pilgrimage to Al Convento’s Dispensa to purchase Pasquale’s selection of fine products. Ask for his territorial take on the Bloody Mary called O Sang e Maria, pairing super tomato juice, vodka and colatura.
Enzo Coccia, pizza god of La Notizia in Napoli, uses anchovy fillets from Cetarii. He gave me a 200 gram jar of fillets and I became a fan.
Marina di Pisciotta is famed for its Menaica anchovies, fished in the spring with a net called menaica that traps the largest specimens which are removed one by one, immediately cleaned, soaked in brine, packed with salt in clay jars. Donatella Marino’s husband is a fisherman; she processes anchovies, makes colatura and is the only official vendor of the product.
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