I don’t know about you, but when temperatures rise into triple-digits (on the Fahrenheit scale) as they have lately in much of the Northern Hemisphere, even my enthusiasm for cooking begins to lag. That, and our impeding house move, has meant that any cooking that I do indulge in these days is as quick as possible and, whenever possible, doesn’t involve the use of any heat source…
So here’s a quick note on a great non-recipe for times like these: pane burro e alici, or anchovies and butter on bread. All you do is take some good, crusty bread, cut it into slices, slather a bit of fresh butter over each slice and top with one (or if you really like them, two) anchovy filets. Ecco fatto!
Serve with some sprightly, crisp white wine that will stand up to the assertive flavor of the anchovies.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, when it comes to a dish this simple, the quality of your ingredients really matter. Good, crusty bread with excellent crumb is very important. (NB: Bread like this can be hard to find in the US, so I like to lightly toast my bread, which helps give it better structure.) The butter should be fresh and unsalted—we get ours from a local dairy—and allowed to soften for just a few minutes; it should be neither rock hard nor too soft. And the better the anchovies, the better the dish, although regular supermarket canned anchovies packed in oil will do you fine.
The ‘genius’ of this dish lies in the contrast in flavor and texture as between the butter and the anchovies. The butter should be smooth and creamy and mild—it will balance out the assertiveness of the anchovies perfectly.
These are traditionally served as an antipasto or snack, but if you ask me, you can make a light meal of them if you want, just followed by a salad and some fresh fruit.
And for all of you who don’t care for anchovies, what can I say? I guess you’ll have to give pane burro e alici a miss, but that’s really too bad. You’re missing a real treat.