Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Anchovy Risk Factor

We were young and frisky and temporarily in charge of the kitchen for 2 weeks on our summer cruise ship in Southeastern Alaska. Two cooks, myself and my co-conspirator who was filling in due to the absence of our chief cook. We were both artists and could not pass up the opportunity to liven up the place with some bold ideas.
It was the 80's and we were at the edge of the gourmet revolution and our 20 something mentalities felt the pulse. The existing menu basics were predominately Midwestern German recipes like Hot German potato salad, sitting side by side with Northwest dishes and Alaska seafood with lots of mayonnaise. Due to a failed delivery of an essential item for the dinner that night, we had to step up and let our inventive juices out of the cage.  We had fettuccine. We had spinach. We had anchovies. We added raisins. Could we really use anchovies? The chief cook and menu planner was far away and we were on a ship where no one was watching over our shoulder. We did it.  The salty - sweet - bitter combination was fabulous. We were super scolded by the head chef when she learned of our menu adventure. I agree now, anchovies might be a risky ingredient in a no-choice menu for 80 paying-through the teeth passengers. But hooray for our culinary risk taking, we got raves!!! Perhaps that was the start of the improv chef attitude I've imbibed for so long.

I have had anchovy lovers ask for the recipe, so I've written out my best approximation! Serves 4-6.

8 dark salty anchovies (if you can find them, try upgrading to lovely white spanish anchovies - they are less intense. Adjust amounts according to size and saltiness.)
1 1/4 lb of fresh baby spinach (or chopped chard), washed and spun dry
2 garlic cloves
3 tbs. olive oil
1/2 onion chopped
1/3 c. dark raisins, plumped by soaking in water
1 tsp. lemon juice
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
cayenne pepper
grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts (a recent addition)

1. Pour boiling water over the raisins and soak for 10 minutes. Drain the water and set aside.
2. Prepare fettuccine noodles for 4-6.
3. Heat 2 T. of olive oil in a frying pan.
4. Sautee chopped garlic and onion, remove from the pan and set aside, reserving the oil in the pan.
5. Add the additional 1 tbsp. of olive oil and heat. Add spinach or chard to hot oil and cook until wilted. Add a couple tablespoons of water to collect juices. If using chard, add a little water and simmer a few minutes extra. Take out wilted spinach and set aside.
6. Chop the anchovies into pea sized bits. Stir fry them in the pan juices, adding a little water if needed, add to spinach.
7. Combine onions, garlic, spinach, oil and juices from pan. Add 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. (You probably don't need salt!) Variation... add a couple tablespoons of cream, or tomato paste and water to create a more saucy dish.
8. Toast the pine nuts briefly to add a tinge of golden brown and bring out their piney flavor.
9. Assemble the pasta by stirring in the wilted spinach and anchovy mixture in to the cooked and drained pasta. Add a dash of cayenne pepper. Sprinkle the raisins evenly over the pasta and stir. Arrange pasta on a serving platter, add grated parmesan cheese and pine nuts to the top of the pasta and take a moment to enjoy life.


isobel said...

This is inspiring my lunch....

a slice of oatmeal raisin bread toasted, some anchovy paste spread across the surface, topped with chopped arugula and pinenuts, dressed with a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


Amy said...

Great story about how this recipe was invented!