Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pickle Passport: Alici in Wonderland

What was once the center of Magna Graecia is now a bankrupted city that’s been brought to its knees by rampant corruption. Like a scene out of Gomorrah, Taranto runs on fumes; in the darkness of a night without electricity, schemers and pickpockets lurk in the cobblestone alleys of the Old City.

It’s a good thing I’m not writing this for the Taranto Tourism Board…

We initially thought Taranto’s only redeeming quality was an outstanding archeological museum, but then we wandered into a fish market and discovered these home-cured alici, or salted anchovies.

The fishmonger eagerly demonstration how the fish are cleaned in one swift move that simultaneously removes the head and pulls out the innards. The anchovies are then rinsed and layered in crocks for one month, weighted down by plaster-filled water bottles.

This being Italy, nothing goes to waste: Colatura di alici is a fish sauce created from the juices in these crocks, and it's a kick-in-the-head addition to a rustic pasta dish with breadcrumbs, garlic, and alici.

It doesn’t get any simpler than this ancient preservation method, and it doesn't get any sketchier in Italy than Taranto.