Provençal vegetable mix braised in anchovy sauce - what a lovely versatile little dish this is! It doesn't look pretty but the depth of flavour is wonderful.
A side dish, a bruschetta topping or a boost for breakfast scrambled eggs, it is very much like another French classic, piperade. It’s all about cooking vegetables gently for a long time so their flavours, and the flavours of the seasoning and spicing, intensify tenfold.
Nigella inspired ingredient
The star of the show here is anchovy. I had been scared of anchovies far too long and have now faced my fear and vanquished it victoriously. If you are thinking I have gone a bit flowery in my language, you’re right – because it’s a dish inspired by Nigella Lawson whose turn of phrase and especially the mastery of adverbs I thoroughly admire alongside her recipes.
I had obviously been afraid of anchovies’ fishiness. Needlessly, because it’s not fishiness – it’s Umami Central. Just as Nigella promised, it melts like a snowflake in a little warm oil or butter and is happy to be joined by garlic, chilli, cream or tomatoes.
I admit I improvised while preparing this dish but it went smack into bullseye. I wanted to use my freshly acquired anchovy confidence and marry it to vegetables. Only when the dish was complete, I realised how perfect it came out.
If only I knew what to call it!
Considering the similarity to piperade, I was vaguely after an -ade: auberginade? courgeiade? but definitely could not call it anchoïade.
What is anchoïade?
Anchoïade is a condiment rather than a dish. It’s similar to another -ade (I’m adeing away here), tapenade which is an olive and herb paste, mighty delicious too.
Anchoïade is made by pounding, always by hand, in pestle and mortar, anchovy fillets with garlic and capers. Stirred in with olive oil, it’s a dip rather than paste and delicious to spoon on crudites or chunks of bread.
And so we arrive at the problem: what to call my dish? It isn’t anchoïade as explained above and I can’t get away with my auberginade I expect. Provençal vegetables perhaps? Or simply anchovy braised vegetables? The jury is out.
But whatever the name, by any other the dish would taste as good.
What vegetables for this recipe?
My pick is aubergines, courgettes and mushrooms because it is a brown dish after all. But a green pepper will work in the mix, as long as it’s not ALL peppers – it will make it into a piperade then. Just mushrooms, a mix of white and chestnut could be divine as well. And possibly broccoli: anchovy flavoured broccoli is definitely an option to test. But do try my suggestion first and decide to vary it later.
Dicing the vegetables is really the only hardship here; the rest practically cooks itself. I do recommend salting the dice for ten minutes or so, just to initially soften it and to get rid of a little moisture. Pat them dry roughly, grabbing handfuls through paper towels in the bowl.
The anchovy dilema
The anchovy fillets you can buy are either dirt cheap or very expensive and it’s what you pay for that you get. The upper shelf ones, Ortiz for instance, melt beautifully as they touch the warm oil; those from the cheaper end of the market are distinctly tougher, gristlier and bonier.
I won’t recommend spending five quid only to see it dissolve in a small puddle of oil in the pan, but perhaps go mid-range if using them first time. And always, even if you store your honey in the fridge, start cooking with anchovies at room temperature.
It's quick and easy to prepare
Once the anchovies with the garlic and chilli flakes have given us the start of the sauce, the diced vegetables can join them. Covered with a lid, over medium to low heat, they will release lots of liquid and start reabsorbing it after a while.
Which is wonderful because that’s what will concentrate the flavour and make sure every single dice of the aubergine or mushroom is coated in the anchovy-garlic sauce. And once the liquid has gone and only the thick sauce coating is visible in the pan, it’s ready.
Black pepper to taste, a squirt of sharp-sweet balsamic condiment and the feast awaits.