There are some flavor combinations I never tire of regardless of what time of the year it is. The classic flavors of basil and tomato with a sprinkle of minced red onion, squirt of lemon, and drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil will always entice me. Equally delicious are chopped fresh tomatos, green onions, cilantro, and jalapenos with lime juice — a combination so perfect, I can easily skip the tortilla chips and head right for a spoon to enjoy the salty-tart-spicy flavor that would never be the same without cilantro. I think I love cilantro even more than basil.
But another combination has come close to pushing both of the others aside as being tops in my mind — or my mouth: roasted peppers, capers, and briny olives. Ironically, the flavors in this combination would work quite well with many of the others I’ve mentioned, but I enjoy them in a mix like this one — assertively delicious with the unexpected addition of anchovies.
Anchovies? Those little fish in the can with the curly lid that when I’m ordering a pizza to go topped with “the works” I always politely decline? The little salty things whose absence would leave a Caesar’s salad an unappetizing plate of flavorless lettuce, and pasta puttanesca without anything to be sassy about beyond a sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes.
Do any of us ever really say we like anchovies? Probably not, but the key to learning to stop avoiding them is to see them as an ingredient to be mixed with others instead of sitting on top of a pizza. If the anchovies were mixed into the tomato sauce instead, it would intensify the flavor leaving us to wonder what made it so good.
Think about it. How many other ingredients which enhance one another when mixed together are basically unpleasant when eaten alone? Capers. I’ve tasted them just to see, and they’re quite bitter. Or in most recipes which call for capers, the directions will advise rinsing them first. For years, I did just that, and to make sure I understood why, I tasted the brine. Not pleasant. But when it’s mixed into many other ingredients, it’s quite fabulous. Soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar — all are less than pleasant when tasted alone.
Freshly roasted peppers, on the other hand, are perfect alone sprinkled lightly with salt, but they’re truly delicious in this mix. It’s perfect tossed with pasta for a salad when you don’t feel like cooking, or spooned over grilled meat or fish. It’s helps make an omelet interesting and is especially excellent spread over a piece of crusty bread slathered with goat cheese.
It’s the best party food even if you’re the only one at the party, because then you don’t have to share.
Be brave. Don’t forget the anchovies.