I'm a Believer: Anchovy Paste

I don't know about you, but whenever I pass a gourmet food shop, I have to stop what I'm doing and go in. There's an invisible pull -- I can't help myself. I could spend hours browsing the shelves for exotic spices and artisanal vinegars. And of course, I always use the opportunity to stock up on my standbys: tomato paste in a tube, smoked sea salt, aged Gouda, and fig preserves. Yum.

Recently, I added a tube of anchovy paste to my pile of goodies, after seeing some great recipes that feature it, like this one. I may be in the minority, but I've always liked anchovies. They are one of those underrated foods that everyone wrinkles their noses at...until they eat a dish that changes their misconceptions. And of course, if you like Caesar salad, you've eaten an anchovy or two. (They're in the dressing, folks.)

If you aren't quite ready to buy a ticket on the anchovy train, but are willing to give them a chance, I wholeheartedly suggest starting out slowly. (You'll believe in the power of anchovies in no time.) Buy a tube of anchovy paste and go from there. Anchovy paste is made from anchovies, olive oil, salt, sugar and spices. It has a bright, salty flavor and is more savory than fishy. And, a little goes a long way. Add a bit to the melted butter, garlic and grated cheese on your garlic bread. Whisk some into your shallot vinaigrette. Mix some in with the mayo in your potato salad. The opportunities to impress the anti-anchovy faction are endless. Note: I've also found anchovy paste at my local grocery store in the pasta/sauce aisle, so you may not need to go to a specialty shop to find it.

Anchovies go terrifically well with briny olives and capers, spicy peppers and fruity acids, so I made a Puttanesca-type of dish to use as a topping for breads/crackers. I didn't write down the recipe, but I sautéed some garlic in a bit of olive oil until it was fragrant, then in went a couple tablespoons of butter, a tablespoon of capers (drained), about 10 sliced olives (pitted), and an inch or so of the anchovy paste. I stirred it all together until combined, then added in four plum tomatoes that I had seeded and diced, and a last-minute addition of a teaspoon of tomato paste. I cooked this all down, seasoning with salt/pepper and a pinch or two of red pepper flakes. When most of the liquid was gone, I turned off the heat and let it cool a bit before eating. Chris and I then spent the rest of the afternoon drinking wine and scooping the briny-yet-bright tasting mixture onto crusty bread, salty crackers, and hunks of hard cheese.
It would also be great as a pizza topping (add crumbles of spicy sausage and fresh mozzarella) or the more traditional way, tossed with spaghetti. Or for breakfast with a poached egg. To make a sauce, simply add 1 1/2 cups more of the diced tomatoes and simmer about 15 minutes longer, adjusting the seasonings, and you're done. Maybe a drizzle of olive oil and/or some chopped fresh basil, parsley and oregano to finish?
Mmmm. Delish!

Baby steps, dear ones. Baby steps.