Some people, I’m told, have an aversion to anchovies. That’s too bad, because it’s hard to think of a more savory “condiment” for your dishes. The ancient Romans used garum, a sauce derived from anchovies that still lives on today in the form of colatura, they way we use salt, to add savor to just about every dish besides dessert. A good modern example of this ancient technique is this dish of green beans with anchovy sauce. The anchovies add only a hint of fishiness—what they add in spades is flavor, which marries wonderfully with the green beans. Borlotti beans and cauliflower can be prepared the same way, with equally delicious results.
Serves 4-6 as a side course or antipasto
- 500g (1 lb) green beans, trimmed
- 4-5 anchovy fillets
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Olive oil
- A nob of butter (optional)
Throw the trimmed green beans in a large pot of well salted boiling water and let them cook until they are cooked through but still rather al dente.
While the beans are boiling, gently sauté the chopped garlic and onion in the oil (and butter if using) in a skillet, large enough to contain the beans later, until the onion is quite soft and translucent, taking care not to let the onion or the garlic brown. (Adding a spoonful of water from time to time helps things along. Add the anchovy fillets and let them melt into the seasoned oil. Turn off the heat and add the chopped parsley. This whole step should take no longer than it takes the beans to cook.
When the green beans are cooked, drain them, but not too well, and add them to the skillet along with a half-ladleful of the cooking water. Turn the flame back on and sauté the beans in the anchovy sauce for a minute or two to let them take on the flavor of the sauce. Any water clinging to the beans should have almost entirely evaporated. Taste and adjust for salt; you should need only a pinch—or perhaps none at all—as the anchovies, of course, are quite salty.
Turn your green beans with anchovy sauce into a serving dish, and nap them with the remaining sauce in the skillet. Serve immediately.
There are a few variations on this basic recipe, mostly involving the soffritto. Some recipes omit the onion and garlic entirely, some use only garlic (sometimes left whole and removed after the initial sauté), others only the onion. Some recipes have you add the parsley to the soffritto to sauté along with the aromatics rather than added at the end. Some recipes include a bit of chopped fresh basil in addition to, or instead of, the parsley. Some leave out herbs altogether. And if you like black pepper, a good grind in your green beans with anchovy sauce before serving wouldn’t be amiss.