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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sardines vs Anchovies: Ginger's Ho Bag Pasta

Remember that Italian cookbook I found in the basement? Well, I cooked something out of it on Sunday, cherry tomato and anchovy spaghetti:

Tomato and Anchovy Spaghetti

cherry tomatoes (about .75 oz)
1 can anchovies or sardines
1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove
1 dried chili
2 tbsp fresh basil
extra virgin olive oil to taste

Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds and juice. Squeeze the lemon. Peel and finely chop the garlic, crumble the chili, and drain the sardines. Heat about 3 tbsp of the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic and chili and fry for a minute. Add the sardines and a bit of water. Add the tomatoes and lemon juice and season. Raise the heat, cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat and add the basil. Mix in the cooked pasta. Serve immediately.

When I decide to cook something like a pasta or a meat dish, I usually buy my ingredients at Urban Fare in Yaletown, because they are always fresh, high quality, and available. Except this time, they didn’t have any anchovies, only anchovy paste (which is excellent for real Caesar salads, we’ll make that later).

So there I am standing in the canned fish aisle scratching my wooden head wondering what the difference is between sardines (of which they had about 20 kinds from all over the damn place) and anchovies. And wondering if I was the only one who wondered about this. Just in case I'm not, here's the best description I found:

"Sardine an imprecise term for any number of small, silvery saltwater fish related to the herring and found throughout the world. They tend to travel in large schools close to the water's surface and are harvested fresh in the summer.

In the U.S., sardines are mostly found canned in oil or sauce, salted or smoked. In Europe, larger sardines are also eaten fresh, roasted in the oven or cooked on the grill either whole or in fillets. The name "sardine" may be a reference to the Sardinian coast, where pilchards were one of the first fish to be packed in oil. The sardine is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and is generally considered to be a brain food.

Anchovy refers to a family of small fish found in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Anchovies are sold flat or rolled, filleted and either salt-cured or oil-packed. In Europe, however, marinated fresh anchovies are eaten frequently, available in restaurants and Spanish, Greek and Italian groceries.

Known mostly for their strong flavor (and aroma), anchovies can be soaked in water to remove excess brininess. Anchovies are used in everything from Caesar salad dressing, Worcestershire sauce and English "gentleman's relish".

(I don't know what "gentleman's relish" is, but it sounds like something naughty I'd like to try in the bedroom)

So, there you have it. Excepting that I couldn't really taste the difference right there and then, I bought sardines and hoped for the best. This recipe IS successful with sardines, if you enjoy salty, fishy fish, which I'm assuming you do if this recipe at all appeals to you.

I was going to leave this as is, but I couldn't help but feel this recipe must have been intended to taste different. So I decided to try it again, but before I did, I thought I would google it to see if there was other versions out there. Because I love Jamie Oliver and his stupid, floppy hair I thought I would try his version of a similar, traditional Italian dish called "pasta puttanesca". Of course, I added my own changes too:

Pasta Puttanesca
3 stalks fresh basil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
zest and juice of 1 lemon
extra virgin olive oil
2 tuna steaks (optional - I left them out of my version because tuna is expensive and hard to get fresh this time of year. You can use canned, but it just didn't appeal to me)
spaghetti or penne
10 fillets (or two cans, if you forgo the tuna like me)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsps drained capers
handful of pitted and roughly chopped black olives
1-3 dried chiles, to taste
2 handfuls of ripe tomatoes (cherry or regular)
handful of fresh flat-leafed Italian parsley

Marinate the anchovies in the fresh, torn basil and the lemon juice and zest. Set aside. If you are using tuna also use this marinade on the tuna instead of the anchovies, simply drain the anchovies and set aside. Heat olive oil (3-4 good glugs) on medium heat. Add anchovies and allow them to fry and melt. Add the garlic, capers, olives, chili and stir. If you are using tuna, add to the pan now and begin to sear. Add tomatoes (seeded and de-juiced). Bring to a boil, then reduce. Drain the pasta but save a little of the water, adding to the sauce. Add the pasta to the sauce and take off heat. Add the parsley and serve.

First things first, this dish in Italian is "whore's pasta". Amazing. Since I changed it up a bit I will rename it "Ginger's ho bag pasta". Second, seeding the tomatoes makes a huge difference. Third, this pasta is the shit. Anchovies are denser, saltier, more textured, much less watery. I personally prefer them immensely. Fourth, I have no idea why it's called 'whore's pasta'. Fifth, Stella wanted nothing to do with the anchovies I put in a little dish in front of her, she only wanted to eat the ones that were on my plate. Sixth, Jamie Oliver annoys because although I've included measurements here, he doesn't. Seriously it's all a handful of this, a handful of that. Fuck off Jamie, not all of us live on a back 40 of farmland.

Eat this. Eat it. Preferably with someone who smells nice and who afterwards won't mind your fish breath.


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