This year, I’m going for a different approach to winter food.
I like hearty stews, sort of. They do bring consolation to the cold and the dark. But hunks of long-cooked meat and potatoes are heavy at a time when everything else feels heavy -- jackets, blankets, boots. My sun-deprived heart. Stews are a make-life-in-the-cave-tolerable approach to nourishment.
But truth is, as much as I want to be a noble New Englander, snowing stomping and all cute in L.L. Bean, that ain’t me. I don’t want dark, heavy comfort, I want out of the cave. Period.
Here is a recipe that works magic for me. It has all the warm-your-bones richness that you want from winter food. But it offers sunshine, lush, soak-in-it sunshine. A closed-eyes smile. A memory of better times moving through you. Warmth that dances, that carries light.
I’ve been rereading my cookbooks with a new resolve to actually follow the recipes, and this is my first success. The directions do what good recipes should --take me someplace I couldn’t go on my own.
I’ve never made nor tasted anything like this sauce.
The genius is all in the balance – the anchovies add a bass note of deep flavor, but aren’t overwhelming, the oranges round out the middle with sweet citrus without being saccharine, and the mint invigorates, a touch of sharp that opens the nose, makes you breathe it all in.
It is easy to prepare, with little prep time. But I offer one caveat. You need high-quality ingredients to make this worthwhile.
Most important, you need really, really good anchovies. The sauce will be a boney, salty, bitter mess if you use the cheap tins of anchovies that are housed next to the tuna fish in most grocery stores.
You can go for high-end, salt-packed (which require deboning). Or you can get high-quality, olive-oil packed anchovies – my preference. Wanna read up, here is a start.
You will pay for the upgrade, but this is one of those cases where it is worth it. Also, if you consider the anchovies your meat portion, which they are in this dish, it makes the cost more reasonable.
(I buy anchovies at Cardona’s.)
Also, use the best tasting olive oil you can.
I make two kinds of anchovy dishes in my house: stealth and center stage. My husband and two of my three kids think they don’t like anchovies, but they eat them regularly and happily as flavor enhancers in all kinds of sauces.
Bean and I love anchovies, as bit or star players. This is a star-player dish designed for people like us. If you use good-quality anchovies, there is nothing fishy or abrasive about it. But the anchovies are far more than a touch of umami. I wouldn’t press this on the haters.
Funny thing, the orange was the harder ingredient for my family to accept.
These days I find myself drawn to Sicilian flavors. Especially when Arab sensibilities are at play. Sweet and savory. My family isn’t on board yet. They’ll eat most anything with lemon, but orange is a tougher go.
So this sauce isn’t for family dinner in my house. I make it for friends. The kind who love big, intense flavors. Who want to try new things. And who bring their own kind of sunshine to my winter days.
Adapted from The Italian Gourmet
6 oz of anchovies (Use the best anchovies you can find. It makes a difference.)
½ cup olive oil (rough estimate), highest quality you have
1 clove garlic, minced
2 oranges, peeled, pith removed, diced
½ cup breadcrumbs
½ cup orange liqueur
3/4 lb linguine (I like a lot of sauce. You can make a full pound if you want a little lighter coating.)
1 bunch mint, chopped fine
¼ cup walnuts (optional)
Prep all ingredients first.
Peel and dice oranges, chop mint, dice garlic, measure anchovies and have them in a bowl.
- Add a pour of olive oil to skillet. In my 9-inch pan, the right amount covers the bottom of the pan and a little more. Roughly ½ cup. Heat till fragrant.
- Add garlic. Let it release into the oil, but not brown.
- Add anchovies. Press them with a spoon till they blend with the oil and you have a creamy consistency.
- Add the oranges, breadcrumbs, and orange liqueur.
Allow to cook for a few minutes. The oranges will break down quite a bit. The sauce will be thick because of the breadcrumbs.
- While the sauce is cooking, cook linguine in a big pot of salted boiling water. When al dente, drain.
- Toss pasta with the sauce. Sprinkle with mint and mix. Garnish with walnuts if desired.
- Serve immediately.
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