The thing is, I am not a butter eater.
In front of a loaf just out of the oven, I will reach for peppery olive oil and flaky salt. Butter can sit in my fridge, ignored, for months, until the baking hitch attacks.
But since our last trip to Rome – where I ate my weight in gluten and dairy – I have been using that packet of butter surprisingly often. It was either melted into a puddle, mingled with anchovies and used to season pasta. Or eased in thin yet un-spread layers over toasted bread, and covered with whole, plump anchovies only seconds before the first bite. It might partially be because of the desolate fridge we found upon our return – the butter, you guessed it, was one of the few things in there. Or else because anchovies are a beloved flavour in our house, and we never miss the occasion to fry some up. Whatever the reason, and as hazardous as this combination of flavours might sound to purists – fish with dairy? are you joking? – they are definitely a match made by a genius mind.
Burro e alici (butter and anchovies) is a traditional Roman dish of poor origins, combining all the main nutrients in one simple and filling dish: fat from butter, proteins from the fish, and carbs from the bread or pasta. Cucina povera at its finest.
The bruschette are a very nice and quick option for aperitivo, especially if last minute. I like the butter to be in shavings that melt on their own over the warm bread, and whole anchovies for texture.
The pasta is not for the the faint of heart, but I made it for an enthusiastic American who thought anchovies were the enemy only a couple of years ago. It has a strong, stubborn attitude, and attacks your nose with its fishy notes before you even taste the first forkful; but the sweetness of the butter will there, waiting to reward the brave hearts with its deeply satisfying lusciousness.
Pasta Burro e Alici
We used cavatelli freschi here as that's what we had on hand, but any long fresh or dry pasta is ideal.
Serves 2 (generously) as a main course
50g unsalted butter
6 anchovies preserved in oil, drained
200g dry pasta OR 250g fresh pasta
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a handful of rock salt.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the anchovies and stir with a wooden spoon until they have dissolved into the butter. You want a creamy, light brown sauce here.
Lower the pasta and cook until al dente, depending if it is fresh or dry. Drain and transfer to the skillet with the butter sauce. Saute for a minute, until the pasta is well coated with the sauce. Serve, and finish the dish with generous black pepper.