Obama’s visit having induced a state of acute citywide paralysis, TBE spent an inordinate amount of time on Thursday perusing the internet. Hungry browsing led us to a couple sites that alternately offended and titillated our palates, and encouraged us to start a new service journalism feature here at TBE, focused on bringing readers high-quality recipes that are eminently achievable in Cairo.
This article about sardines from the Washington Post left TBE nonplussed, and we fear that it will turn away all but a small number of readers from the joys of sardines. One supposes that a news peg is a news peg, but the cutesiness of the sardine boosters gets in the way of the actual boosting. Instead of making the case that sardines do in fact taste good, the article dwells on the fact that sardines are approved by environmental groups, as if this is an over-riding concern of Americans when deciding what to eat. If the obesity epidemic taught us one thing, it’s that Americans love food that tastes good. If said food is good for the environment, that’s a nice bonus, but TBE assumes that the number of Americans that make their culinary choices based on the environment is very small indeed.
When the article’s author does cite flavor as an important factor, he does so obliquely, by pointing out that some fancy restaurants serve sardines, but then doesn’t even quote the chefs, who could surely offer some food for thought on the deliciousness inherent in the fish itself. Instead the reader is introduced to the frankly grotesque habit of a certain member of the “sardinistas,” who eats a tin of sardines daily when on the road.
TBE considered featuring a recipe containing sardines, to highlight the forsaken fish’s flavor. Sadly none were found in TBE HQ’s pantry, and so we opted to feature the much-maligned anchovy. Joining the sardine in the most misunderstood category is the humble anchovy. The recipe is easy, and easily accomplished in Cairo, recipe for TOMATO AND ANCHOVY SAUCE, from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, parenthetically annotated by TBE. It is absolutely crucial to note here the importance of friends of TBE Rebecca and the aptly named Poseidon for giving TBE its start on the sometimes-daunting Cairo cooking scene. Without their encouragement TBE’s Food & W(h)ine section would be a shadow of what it is today.
The recipe, and some information about wine pairings, after the jump.
For serving, the first choice would be thin spaghetti, spaghettini, to which the only satisfactory alternative is the thicker, standard spaghetti. (Wiser cooks than TBE have ensured us that Marcella’s pasta selections, while representing best practices, are not the last word, so don’t be put out by her pastadoxy.)
Makes enough sauce for 1 pound pasta
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (Using 1/3 cup will make the sauce excessively oily. TBE opts for 1/4 cup or slightly less.)
4 flat anchovy fillets coarsely chopped (If anything, err on the side of more, not less anchovies. Buy the ones in the glass bottles, not the tins. TBE bought them at Alfa but they may be available elsewhere.)
1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up with their juice (TBE uses one smaller (400 gram) can of Cirio Pelati, available at both Alfa and Seoudi, though Alfa is currently stocking a number of different brands that we may try. Also, the larger Cirio cans are available at Seoudi but not Alfa, if you are cooking for a larger group.)
Salt and black pepper freshly ground
1 pound pasta
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (Don’t forget the parsley. TBE once skimped out of laziness and it was a gustatory and aesthetic mistake. The dish is visually boring sans parsley.)
1. Put water in a saucepan, and bring it to a lively simmer.
2. Put the garlic and oil in a saute pan and another saucepan, turn the heat to medium, and cook and stir the garlic until it becomes colored a very pale gold. (Proceed to the next step when the garlic is a very deep ivory/very pale wheat. It will continue cooking in the “double-boiler fashion” section of the recipe, and at that time will achieve a nice golden color. If you wait for it to become gold in this step, it will turn brown and bitter in the next.)
3. Place the pan with the garlic and oil over the saucepan of simmering water, double-boiler fashion. Add the chopped anchovies, stirring and mashing them against the sides of the pan with the back of a wooden spoon until they begin to dissolve into a paste. (When TBE reads paste, toothpaste is the first thing that comes to mind. Needless to say, they will not look like toothpaste. Instead they will disintegrate and disperse in the oil.) Return the pan with the anchovies to the burner over medium heat and cook for half a minute or less, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes, salt and a few grindings of pepper, and adjust the heat so that the sauce cooks at a gentle, but steady simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until the oil floats free from the tomatoes. Stir form time to time.
4. Toss cooked drained pasta with the entire contents of the saucepan, turning the strands so that they are thoroughly coated. Add the chopped parsley, toss once more and serve immediately.
Wine is the natural complement to pasta. Thankfully, TBE stumbled upon a site containing tasting notes for many (but not all) Egyptian wines, done by someone with a far better handle on oenology than ours truly.
2004 Gianaclis “Cru Des Ptolemees” Pinot Blanc
Near colorless in the glass, this wine has an antiseptic nose of melting nylon and acetone. In the mouth it does have some interested cardamom and cinnamon notes, but those are quickly overwhelmed by the taste of black plastic garbage bags which lingers into the finish. Score: 6.5. Cost: $20.