13 July 2012

Allow me to regale you with tales of my Italian vacation...

I'm back from Italy, where I ate my way through Milan and the Cinque Terre (and sweat through every article of clothing I had--Jesus, it's hot there in July).  I expected to be blown away by amazing new flavor combinations and fancy-schmancy preparations, but I really wasn't.  That's not to say that I didn't love the food--the ingredients were always high quality, from the fine dining experiences in Milan to the pizzerias in Riomaggiore.  And every restaurant seemed to operate on the same level of standards--I didn't have a bad meal in the bunch (try randomly eating at 10 restaurants in your state and see if you can make that claim!). I've read it a million times, and now I know it to be true: Italian cooking is about using great ingredients and cooking them simply.  In the northern towns where I stayed, seasoning was mild and minimal as well, but it was never boring.  In fact, I keep marveling over how simple these dishes were, but I loved every bite from beginning to end.

The Cinque Terre, are known for their fresh anchovies.  I have never been a big fan, but I know they're good for you (and cheap).  I was determined to try them and allow the people of Liguria to wow me.  The recipe below is my take on the most common plate of pasta with anchovies being served up and down the coast (and yes, I was finally sold).

Spaghetti alle acciughe (Spaghetti in anchovy sauce)

Serves 4

3.5 oz. anchovies
2 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup milk
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh tomato (about 2 medium tomatoes)
10.5 oz. spaghetti

In a small saucepan, bring the milk and garlic to a boil (watch carefully!), turn off heat, and cover.  Meanwhile, slice and bone the anchovies, if needed.  If they are salted, give them a quick bath in white vinegar to remove some of the salt, drain, and pat dry.

Bring heavily salted water to boil in another large saucepan and cook the spaghetti, al dente, according to package directions.  Drain and reserve once cooked.

In a medium skillet, over medium heat,  warm the olive oil and sauté the anchovies until they dissolve.  Lower to medium-low heat and add the garlic-milk combination, stirring constantly until combine.  Add the chopped tomato, stir and heat through, and then add the cooked spaghetti to the sauce.

Serve with a dry white, like pinot grigio, or table-friendly Sangiovese.