A fishy tale from Campania

A fishy tale from Campania

Amazing Amalfi anchovies

Here at Campania Food and Wine, we spend a lot of time focusing on the wine side of our business. This month, to redress the balance a little, I’d like to tell you about the wonderful produce from the seaside village of Cetara, lovingly prepared by a family firm called Delfino, the Italian word for dolphin. (You’ll be relieved to know that dolphins are not on the menu!)

Late in 2017, The Telegraph featured Italy’s 19 most beautiful villages. (Why 19? Who knows!) Cetara came in at Number 5, described as ‘a typical tumble of weathered, pastel-hued houses spilling down the mountainside to a pretty harbour.’ It is, indeed a picture-perfect place, reminiscent of the days before mass tourism took hold of parts of the Amalfi coast. It’s also a working harbour, with its own fishing fleet and a long tradition of preserving anchovies.

The legacy of Pasquale Battista

So many of the foodstuffs, wines and other drinks we import come from small family set-ups with decades of tradition and expertise behind them, not to mention a passion for their products. The Delfino anchovy range is no exception.

In the early 1950s, Pasquale Battista established a small laboratory in Cetara, to experiment with different ways of preserving anchovies.  He came up with some perfect solutions, and his processes are followed to this day by his children and a local workforce. Carefully selected fish and other natural ingredients, all hand-processed with traditional expertise, combined with compliance to stringent food regulations, are used to create the most sublime anchovy products.

Love anchovies or hate them?

Possibly the Marmite of the fish world, anchovies certainly divide opinions. It’s my contention, however, that most people who claim to hate anchovies will only have experienced those slimy mass-produced ones you get in the little tins, which dissolve to nothing if you look at them too long, and taste…well…slimy, too salty, and too fishy. Jars of Delfino anchovies – filetti di alici – are a world apart. You only need to look at them to see the quality. Their texture is firm and appealing, the taste is gentle yet delicious, and they retain their shape during cooking if you wish. Do try them before you consign the humble anchovy to your list of food dislikes forever.

A taste to savour

If you’re interested in the scientific stuff, anchovies are packed with a compound called inosinate, which is rich in that umami taste and, in addition, when combined with the glutamate to be found in lamb or beef, is a natural flavour enhancer. Yes, lamb tastes somehow lambier and beef is beefier when cooked with anchovies, which may be counterintuitive but it’s true.

Anchovies in different guises

We’re proud to stock other products from Delfino too. At only £3 a jar, the anchovy and tomato sauce is a must for your store cupboard for an easy midweek pasta supper. You could try the anchovy pesto too, again with pasta, or spread on a chunk of artisan bread.

A little less well-known in the UK is the fish sauce called Colatura, a worthy rival to Nam Pla. Anchovies and salt are packed into chestnut barrels then weighted down. In the autumn, the producers poke holes in the bottom of the barrels and capture the delicious juice in bottles.

This wonderful sauce has the honour to be included on the list of foodstuffs on The Ark of Taste. This is a project set up by the Slow Food Foundation, which draws attention to small-scale producers of traditional products, unique to distinct ecoregions, with the intention of ensuring the flavours and processes of the past don’t disappear. Use it to enhance the flavour of vegetables, soups and other fish dishes, or simply drizzle onto pasta for a super-quick and tasty meal.

The conclusion? Whatever your preconceptions about anchovies, try the Delfino ones. You’ll be blown away if you already like these little fish, or quite possibly become a convert if you don’t!