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Posts Tagged ‘anchovy paste’

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Hot sourdough bread with butter.

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Same slice. I just couldn’t decide which was the purtier.

So maybe it’s because I went from making a 12-ingredient* fruitcake over Christmas to drizzling Baileys into snow last week that’s really making me appreciate the value of simplicity. Or maybe it’s because I’m an editor as well as a writer, and stripping the superfluous out of everything from copy to my Facebook friends list to food ingredients appeals to me. Or—this is probably it—it’s that the simpler the ingredients and prep, the more satisfying the dish.

People usually assume that since I’m a food writer I put all of my focus on fancy restaurants, but to be honest, the opposite is true: I don’t care about fine dining. I care about ingredients. Choose the best ingredients and don’t mess with them too much. Why should you? They already had big plans to speak for themselves.

Years ago Dr. Andrew Weil said his idea of the ultimate dessert was good-quality dark chocolate alongĀ  with fruit, in season (this matters) and perfectly ripe. It’s both healthy and heavenly.

For a real challenge along those lines, for a week (or more) keep recipe ingredients down to the bare minimum—three to five, tops. Pared down just to the essence of themselves, offered in the best possible light with the matchmaking** of your two sweet hands, and people start to call you a good cook. It’s nutty.

The shots here are bloody good memories of mine. Every component of every dish is of good quality and consequently didn’t fail me. And none have more than five ingredients.

I’d continue, but I don’t want to shoot my premise in the foot.***

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Just-picked organic strawberries and cream.

Mozzarella in carrozza: a cheese sandwich dipped in egg, dredged in flour, and butter-fried.

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Organic figs I picked, then dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel.

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Scotch Woodcock: toast smeared with butter and anchovy paste, then topped with very softly cooked scrambled eggs and a couple whole fishie cuties.

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Lemon curd: lemon zest, juice, sugar and eggs, plus a little pat of butter.

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Gianduja (homemade Nutella): dark chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, sugar, cream and butter.

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Popovers: all-purpose flour, eggs, milk, butter and salt.

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A pineapple kebob-like thing I came up with: fresh cut pineapple doused in Malibu rum and dusted with sweetened shredded coconut.

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Another invention of mine: mulberries picked from the tree outside my balcony and cooked down into a jam with sugar, several hefty splashes of Petite Syrah, and ground cardamom.

*And it would have been 13 but I couldn’t find candied angelica.

**I couldn’t think of this word. I could only think of ‘shiddoch’. True story. So I Googled that to get me to the English word. The nine remaining drops of my sanity are going to fall out of my ears one of these days.

***I also mix metaphors the way good things come to those who take the bull by the horns.

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Strong flavors, those that make the eyes water and taste buds go ker-POW—it’s rare that one appreciates them until adulthood. Some still don’t, even then. But for those of us who do, we crave them like we do oxygen.

Horseradish. Fresh lemon zest. Dark, bitter chocolate. Thick, Grade B maple syrup. Raw garlic. Mazi, the NJ-made piri piri pepper hot sauce I adore that’s powered by 175,000 Scoville heat units. A little goes a long way, but what a way, baby.

What we eat can hold up a mirror to our private selves and reveal secrets we may or may not want others to see. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, was drinking black espresso in Italy when a passerby commented that her life must be very sweet if she likes her coffee so inky black. And it was true that her life was beginning to become very sweet indeed. Pair Liz up against a guest I saw on a talk show who, over the course of a few weeks, ate spoonfuls of sugar out of five pound bags until she emptied them. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, she wasn’t a sweet tooth. Not in the usual sense, anyway. No, she was working much too hard, doing much too much (sound familiar?). She was missing sweetness in her life. Once she made time for the things, and people, she had been neglecting, she lost the compulsion to snack on plain sugar.

What about the person who craves strong flavors? Maybe she grew up eating them in India or South America or Thailand, and they transport her back to home and family. Maybe enjoying them came later, as was the case for my uncle. Stationed in Texas years ago, he grew to adore that region’s cuisine. When he came back to NJ and made chili for his family, it was so spicy that my mom called it inedible. But he sure was happy with it.

Sometimes the love for those flavors goes deeper. I have a friend who was taught to distance himself from his feelings. But when he ate raw garlic or hot sauce it made him feel again; it was less the flavors than the hidden feelings he craved. And spicy food turned out to be one of the paths that brought him back to his emotions for good.

As for me, I had an ulcer about 10 years ago. While I never was crazy about strong flavors, I liked a little taste here and there. But when I was sick it was all off limits: no garlic or hot pepper flakes, no chocolate or citrus of any kind. A sad year or two went by like this, and I was surprised at how much I missed those awesome little bright spots in my food, how much I had taken them for granted.

Once I was healthy again, I embraced everything I had enjoyed in small amounts. But now I ate them in bigger amounts. Never one for Southeast Asian food or horseradish or anchovy, now I made a point to try them again…and loved them all. I’m not saying I’m glad I had the ulcer, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn’t be eating Japanese-style wasabi with my salmon now if I hadn’t been denied it before.

I found the below recipe long ago. It’s often called Gentlemen’s Spread, but I like the original name: Scotch Woodcock. I love homey food from the UK, and this is currently my favorite.

When I first made this and took a bite, I actually started to laugh out loud at just how ridiculously luxurious it was. This serves one, but can easily be multiplied for more. Here we go.

Take out an egg and a small bowl and beat the egg with a fork. Then add a couple of tablespoons of milk (or cream, if you want to go nuts).

Toast a slice of bread and smear on some softened unsalted butter.

On top of that, spread three tablespoons of anchovy paste, either from a tube or from whole anchovies that you’ve blitzed in a little food processor. (Last time I made this I used too many anchovies and when I took a bite it felt like I had been hit in the face by several pounds of fish that had been saturated in salt and thrown at point-blank range out of a pickle bucket. I won’t do it again, but if you dig that sort of thing, by all means, enjoy.)

If you’re multiplying this recipe for a crowd and you have a warming oven, stick the buttered, anchovied toast in there now to keep it hot while you keep cooking.

Heat up a small pan with another pat of butter, and add your egg mixture. Stay with it and stir very, very gently with a fork. Actually, don’t stir it so much as push it around a little; the goal is to get it just barely cooked through.

Spread the eggs on top of the anchovy toast. You can get all fancy and add a couple of whole anchovies on top as I did above, or just get right in there.

Take a nice greedy bite. Just for a few seconds, let your whole world become that surprising, addictive combination of crunchy and creamy and rich and salty and fishy. Laugh if you’re compelled.

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