Recipe: Crostini with Anchovies, Butter, Roasted Peppers, and Marjoram
Sorry for my lack of postings in the last week or so, but I took a little vacation and couldn’t figure out how to put up photos or much else with the cranky old laptop I had with me. I went to Barcelona. Okay, it’s not Southern Italy, but even the most devoted little guinea must branch out at times, and it is, after all, on the Mediterranean. There are many similarities in its cuisine, because it is based on olive oil. In fact, many ingredients—olives, artichokes, sweet peppers, tomatoes, great wine, seafood including baccala (bacalla in Catalan and bacalao in Spanish)—play a huge part in both culinary worlds. That’s one of the reasons Barcelona is so fantastic and yet so familiar to an Italian food–focused individual. (Also the wine is really inexpensive and really good.)
As always when I travel, I headed straight to the markets, especially the fish markets. I was impressed by the quality of my favorite fish, sardines and anchovies, the silvery, oily, strong little fish I can never resist. Not only could I not take my eyes off of the little piles of them in the market, but I ordered them wherever I ate out. What is it about the taste of strong, oily fish that is so addictive? Well, maybe not everyone feels this way, but I don’t understand how anyone could fail to go nuts over a platter of deep-fried anchovies squirted with a little lemon, along with a glass or two of cava.
Now, in Barcelona they’ll say they’re not a tapas town, but it seems every old-time bar and every new hipster wine place serves amazing tapas, some traditional and some contemporary and sophisticated. My husband and I went to a trendy and very tiny tapas bar called Quimet y Quimet in the Poble Sec neighborhood where we were staying. They specialize in tapas-type little dishes called montaditos, built on hard round bread that looks like mini bagels. The little bagel things reminded me of the Southern Italian friselle of my childhood, but much smaller and not quite so jaw breaking (you don’t have to soak them in hot water or soup to make them edible; a drizzle of olive oil softens them right up). There were all sorts of combinations piled on the crusty little bagels. I sampled one that combined smoked salmon, yogurt, roasted pepper, honey, and soy sauce. You wouldn’t think smoked salmon and honey would be particularly good together, but now I know that they are in fact very good. And of course I had to try the anchovy and tapenade montadito, also with yogurt (weird, this yogurt fixation) and roasted peppers. It was excellent primarily for the quality of its anchovies. Many tapas places serve boquerones, fresh anchovies spiked with a little vinegar and then laid out flat and covered with good olive oil. Quimet y Quimet used anchovies known as anchoas that have been salted and then packed in good olive oil. I like both types, but sometimes the fresh ones are too vinegary for me.
The bagel tapas appealed to me. When I got home I wanted to create some version of Quimet’s montadito using the oil-packed anchovies we can get here. I didn’t have the mini bagels, but since I understood them to be essentially Southern Italian crostini but with just a bit more art and complexity, I used good Italian bread as a starting point.
One thing I like to do with oil-packed anchovies, even really high-quality ones (and what others would you bother with?), is refresh them. I give them a gentle rinse in cool water and then lay them out in a low-sided dish. Then I drizzle them with a very good olive oil, my best oil, and let them sit and soak it all in. That gets rid of any overly fishy and less-than-great-quality olive oil they may have been sitting in.
So here’s a crostini piled a little higher than is usual in Italy. And by the way, all the montaditos are served at room temperature, not hot, so that’s what I’ve done here. Smart, actually. It makes all the flavors really pop.
Crostini with Anchovies, Butter, Roasted Peppers, and Marjoram
(Serves 4 as an antipasto)
A dozen oil-packed Spanish or Italian anchovies (I used Flott, a very good Sicilian brand)
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 red bell peppers, roasted until charred all over, peeled, seeded, and cut into pieces about the same size as the toasts
1 garlic clove, very thinly sliced
A pinch of sugar
8 slices baguette, cut on an angle
A sprinkling of smoked paprika, such Spanish pimenton de la vera
A few large sprigs of marjoram, stemmed, the leaves left whole
Place the anchovies in a strainer, being careful not to break them up, and gently run a little water over them. Pat them dry, and lay them out in one layer in a low-sided dish. Drizzle them with your best olive oil (I used Ravida, from Sicily), just enough to cover them lightly. Let them sit, unrefrigerated, to soak up the oil, for about an hour.
Take four anchovies from the dish, and put them in a mortar. Mash them well. Add the softened butter and blend it into the anchovies.
In a small bowl, combine the roasted pepper pieces, the garlic, and a pinch of sugar. Mix gently.
Toast the baguette slices on both sides, and let them cool for a moment. Place about two pieces of the roasted pepper on each toast. Then top the peppers with about a half teaspoon of anchovy butter, but don’t spread it out; just let it sit. Drape an anchovy over each little butter mound. Finish each crostini with a sprinkling of hot paprika and a few marjoram leaves.