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Wax bean Nicoise with bottarga and Cetara anchovy crostone

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 6
Wax bean Nicoise with bottarga and Cetara anchovy crostone
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
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So you think you don’t like anchovies? Well, I think you’re wrong. Or at least I’d like to convince you otherwise.

I, too, was once a hater of this oily, silver-skinned saltwater fish, and I blame it all on the poorest quality versions, packed in inexpensive oil, that are often laid atop pies in American pizza joints. Reviling the anchovy pizza was like an American pastime, and I proudly joined in.

Then about 20 years ago, one of the chefs at Campanile made an anchovy aioli, which she smeared on the olive bread crostini that we served alongside a tuna niçoise salad. It was so delicious, I knew I had to give the anchovy a chance.

In the years since, as I traveled more in the Mediterranean, where anchovies are used in many and delicious ways, I came to love eating and cooking with this fish.

At Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza and Chi Spacca, we use salt-packed anchovies as a foundation flavor in the braising liquid for lamb dishes and in wild boar ragú, the same way we might add garlic, red pepper flakes or herb sprigs. This use of anchovies as a background flavor isn’t something I thought of myself. Asian fish sauces are made primarily from anchovies, and Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies as a primary ingredient. Used as a “secret weapon,” anchovies add a salty, briny flavor that some experts say imitates umami, the secret flavor that is often attributed to monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Having completely surrendered to my love of anchovies, I also use them in more overt ways. I use anchovies in abundance in the tri-colore salad at the Pizzeria (my homage to the Caesar).

An anchovy compound butter — sweated shallots, garlic, parsley, black olives and anchovies beaten into soft butter, rolled into a log and chilled — is hands-down my favorite condiment for grilled steak.

And they are the essential flavoring for bagna cauda, a warm sauce that is delicious spooned over grilled vegetables or even just grilled bread.

Vinaigrette

1

In a medium bowl, combine the shallots, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and kosher salt. Add the oil, whisking it in a slow, steady stream to combine. Stir in the herbs and pepper. This makes about 1 cup vinaigrette.

Nicoise salad

1

Prepare the wax beans: Bring a pot of salted water to boil and prepare an ice bath. Cook the wax beans to al dente (they should still be crisp but cooked), 1 to 2 minutes, then drain and chill in the ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove and pat dry. Trim the stem from the beans, leaving the tails. Slice the beans on the extreme bias into very long pieces using a Frencher or a knife. Set aside.

2

To prepare the potatoes, steam them until they are tender when pierced with a small sharp knife, about 20 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel (discard the skin) and slice into one-half-inch thick rounds. Set aside.

3

To soft-cook the eggs, bring a saucepan of salted water to boil and gently drop in the eggs, in their shells. Boil for about 7 minutes, or until the yolk is just set (it should not be close to being hard-boiled). Remove the eggs and drop in an ice bath to chill. Carefully peel the chilled eggs, then halve each lengthwise. Set aside.

4

To prepare the crostone, heat the oven to 350 degrees, or heat a sandwich press. If using the oven, place the bread slices on a baking sheet, brushing the tops with oil, and bake until golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. If using a sandwich press, brush both sides of the bread with olive oil and toast. Remove the crostone and rub the oiled sides lightly with garlic.

5

To assemble the salad: In a large mixing bowl, combine the wax beans, potatoes and olives. Season as desired with salt, and dress with vinaigrette to taste. Pile the bean salad on the side of each of 6 plates, making sure the potatoes and olives are equally dispersed among the servings. Set the crostone next to it, spooning the well-stirred bagna cauda over the bread, and sprinkle with sliced parsley. Top with one-half soft-cooked egg and then an anchovy fillet. Grate the bottarga over the beans and serve immediately.