So … you live and you learn and some kinds of learning are very delicious indeed!
Last August, we were guests for the day at friends who had rented a house near the sea in northern Lazio, almost on the border with Tuscany.
Susanna does not cook for a living but she would be perfectly capable of doing so, such is her passion and deftness in the kitchen. Her sister, Sally, is likewise no slouch in that department and so I was looking forward to some jolly good nosh. We spent most of the day on the beach and that’s the way we wanted it … so the dinner was perforce going to be something quick and easy to prepare and delight us at the same time.
Susanna announced, when I enquired about the menu, that we were going to have spaghetti alle “vongole fuiute” — pronounced von-go-lay foo-yew-tay — which is Neapolitan dialect for clams which have “disappeared” or “run away”. Now, isn’t that an interesting concept for the name of a dish?
I was gagging for a glass of wine by the time we got to the rental home and this was the view from the patio at the back. Stunning! I simply had to take one photo before dashing off to the loo, hence the unstaged ‘messiness’ of this still. But doesn’t it say it all about summer evenings in the countryside by the sea? (And there were sheep in them there hills, too, bleating to their hearts content.)
As Susanna, Sally, their two daughters and I sipped our drinks and started getting the dinner together, while the two husbands set about the arduous task of laying the table etc., all at a very distinguished and leisurely pace, we also discussed the sense of humour inherent in the Neapolitan approach to life, including food. I wondered whether their term “fuiuto” for “running away” or “disappearing” might etymologically be linked to the English “flee”and to the French “s’enfuir”?
Their dog said “I dunno!” and went all Greta Garbo on us (I vant to be left alone). There was a dreamy full moon to accompany us on our search for neapolitan culinary history and background.
In terms of brass tacks and getting down to facts, however, the reason for terming the recipe thus is that, in actual fact, … wait for it … there are NO clams involved whatsoever! Yes! You see, the clams have “run away” or “disappeared” – geddit?
The idea is that the spaghetti will taste of the sea, as they would were they to be prepared with actual clams, but it is the prestidigious addition of salt-dried anchovies that contributes the taste of the sea and not the clams. Who knows, perhaps the name was invented by people who were too poor to afford clams? It is said that sailors of old, of Ancient Greek and Magna Grecia times, used seawater to cook their meals and that housewives in Sicily used stones gathered from the sea to make a bouillon — a stone instead of a stock cube! … I find all this quite fascinating.
The recipe is basically an aglio-olio-e-peperoncino (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/spaghetti-aglio-olio-e-peperoncino/) to which salt-dried anchovies are added. It hit the spot, it was super duper and I determined to make it at home fairly soon.
I saw Susanna prepare it and knew it wasn’t particularly hard … but the day I decided to cook it for lunch, I was in a tearing hurry. And I mean hurry. It was already half past one and three people turned their big hungry eyes in my direction, wondering whether they would be fed. I put the water onto the boil and I asked for some help in peeling the garlic.
Here are the anchovies I had bought at Cocciano market a few days earlier, plus 1 clove per 100g of pasta (500g in all) and a few teensy weensy tomatoes (for a splash of colour).
I cleaned the anchovies (head, and bones etc removed) and quickly rinsed them under running water. (“Quick” being the operative word — lunch was all about having to be quick that day.)
I placed the garlic in a frying pan with some olive oil in it and turned the heat on …
Meanwhile the water had come to the boil, so I added the coarse sea salt and a minute later the spaghetti …
I cut up the tomatoes and chopped the anchovies and got hold of some parsely leaves.
Pasta simmering away merrily …
I tiled the frying pan so that the garlic could cook better … and added some fresh peperoncino (chilli).
When the pasta had been cooking for about five minutes, and had thus time to render some of its “flouriness” and starches to the cooking water, I took a ladleful and poured it into the frying pan with the garlic. (See for yourself: the water is not clear … the starches have set to work.)
In other words … I was now “simmering” the garlic and the oil!
I added the tomatoes …
I added yet more cooking water … and used the back of the ladle to squash the garlic, almost into a paste by then (it had gone mushy) …. Can you see? The anchovies have almost disappeared. This was literally one minute before I added the pasta. In other words: add the anchovies, literally, at the very last minute before adding the pasta.
Add the spaghetti and the parsely …
And toss and coat the pasta … Switch off heat.
Add a little bit of anchovy that was set aside … as garnish.
On my plate … and I wolfed down the lot.
The remains of the recipe …
I think this is going to become a new family favourite. People are so afraid of salt-dried anchovies whereas they can be a pasta’s best friend. The anchovy will ‘melt’ into any sauce and provide a very rich and gorgeous background taste, without overwhelming.
I would like to acknolwedge the tip of adding anchovies only at the very last minute, indeed when the heat has been switched off, to the following website:
What a full moon that was … sigh …