Anchovies are a serious passion of mine. I’m never without them. When you get great anchovies, you can eat them straight from the tin with great bread, butter, a pinch of paprika and a squeeze of lemon, or serve them as a celebratory nibble with green olives, spiced almonds and fino sherry.
Anchovies work as a star ingredient in a simple pasta with garlic, oil and a pinch of dried chilli, in a Caesar salad, and in pastries like pissaladiere with green olive tapenade. In Italy I love eating bagna calda, a ‘hot bath’ of anchovy, butter, olive oil and garlic. You take baby vegetables - maybe a tiny cucumber or celery heart - and bath it in the hot anchovy sauce. Anchovies give a great depth of flavour to meat dishes whether it’s in a mayonnaise, green chilli and anchovy sauce on steak or with slow-baked chicken or veal osso buco. They dissolve and meld with the sauce, leaving this salty spike of flavour.
You can never say you’ve got nothing to eat if there’s a can of sardines in the cupboard. Sardines on toast are a stand-by and one of my favourite back-up snacks for surprise visitors is to press sardines onto great crackers and sprinkle them with chopped onion, salt, sugar, a splash of vinegar and a dash of Tabasco. One of my ‘empty fridge dinners’ is to caramelise a red onion, add a can of chopped tomatoes, tinned sardines, and black olives, then stir through rigatoni. At Mr Wolf we often have a pizza special with smoked mozzarella, smoked tinned sardines, onion, parsley and lemon.
Fresh sardines are so special - make sure you choose bright pink fish. You can buy them filleted but they perish quickly so it’s great to fillet them yourself. The best way to prepare them is to quickly ‘cook’ them in an acid, as with my cured sardines with currants.