Ahhhhhh….the tiny but mighty anchovy. Or as The Hubbs terms them, ‘cat food’. If you haven’t tried anchovies, this post is for you. If you have and don’t like them, this post is still for you. Other than swallowing them whole or choking them down, there are a few tricks to ease the punch of an anchovy without resorting to mixing minuscule amounts into whipped potatoes or deviled eggs, making compound butter, or creating epic Caesar dressing.
There are a couple of types of anchovies: The main ones are salt cured and stored in oil (aka the ‘cat food’ of which The Hubbs can’t stand) and those that come salt packed (The Hubbs hates those a little less). These are two very different animals and I use them both for different reasons. For my tastes, the salt cured and oil packed variety are best in salad dressing, on pizza, and in bean salads. They pack a salty, savory punch. The second type of anchovy, the salt packed variety, I use in sauces, some salads, and dressed in vinegar like boquerones (they just need a little soak and a marinade–more to come on that in a new post!). The salt-packed type maintains flesh more similar to fresh fish once soaked and tend to maintain a more clean, oceanic flavor. You can also find dried anchovies in most Asian markets and can find anchovy paste in some supermarkets. I have yet to experiment with either of those.
Now that we’ve had a little introduction to the types of anchovies, I’ll stress to buy ‘good’ anchovies. I will note here that ‘good’ doesn’t necessarily mean super expensive. The best tinned, salt cured and oil packed I can find on any given day are the flat anchovies by Cento. No metal flavor and soft, salty, ruby-hinted flesh (not icky brown and oxidized). I’ve tried almost every jarred, expensive, salt-cured and oiled variety and end up hittin’ up the local grocery mart for a $1.50 flat of Cento anchovies. As far as purely salt packed, you can’t beat Agostino Recca at about $20 for 2.2 lbs (a post on how to repack these guys for longer-term keeping is on the way!). Shop around, try some varieties, and you’ll find what works for you. If you need some inspiration, check out the taste test at Serious Eats.
Now, down to business. You can make this salad all spiffy, complicated, and hard or you can roll with the slacker version. I tend to prefer the slacker version because it’s usually a midday or weeknight comfort meal. Think of this as an Eatin’-in-PJs-on-the-couch sort of salad. As noted, you can make this complicated and soak and cook your own beans, or you can get jiggy in your fuzzy socks and drawstring pants and pop open a can of cannellini beans. The rest of the ingredients are simple ad fresh and require little to no fuss. This is a quick salad that’s perfect for tired weeknights, lazy weekends, or crazy times that send you begging for simplicity. And hey, if Zombie Apocalypse End Times come, you can join me in full-bellied bliss in the anchovy isle while those other pseudo-survivors steer clear!
Cannellini and Anchovy Salad (Serves 2-3)
- Butter, Boston, or Bibb lettuce (Arugula or Spinach will work too in a pinch)
- 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed well and drained
- 1/4 cup very finely chopped Vidalia onion
- 3/4 cup chopped parsley (curly or flat)
- 2 regular cloves or 1 clove elephant garlic, smashed and finely chopped
- 3 TBSP high quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 TBSP sherry vinegar (more or less to taste)
- Juice of half a lemon (or a couple of quick shots of prepared lemon juice)
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
- Salt and cracked pepper to taste
- Butter, Garlic, or Caesar salad croutons of choice (or homemade; Italian or Cheese don’t work well)
- 2 tins salt-cured flat anchovies in olive oil, drained and rested on paper towels
First, drain your anchovies of their oil and lay out on paper towels. Next, carefully rinse and shake dry your head of lettuce so as not to bruise the leaves. Separate the leaves from the head and tear into pieces (usually each leaf in half). You can leave the leaves whole for presentation, but remember you’re piling up on the couch with the dog in your PJs. No pretenses here, people. Arrange the lettuce on your plates as neatly or as ‘Hot Mess’ as you feel.
Place the rinsed and drained beans in a bowl large enough to fit them and to toss with a spoon. Add onion, chopped parsley, garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar, lemon, thyme, and salt and pepper to the beans. Turn over with a spoon to coat the beans with the mixture. Toss in your desired number of croutons (Maybe 10 per person if they’re the larger ones–don’t forget to eat a few out of the bag. You know we all do it!). Turn a few times more to moisten the croutons (this my friends is the Tired Working Man’s answer to Panzanella salad; #ImTired). Arrange the bean mixture on top of the beds of lettuce. Add flat anchovies intact on the side.
Get yourself a glass of a crisp, high-acid white wine (Albarino anyone?), pile up on the sofa with the dog, and get your Netflix ready. Weekday nights just became glorious!