I can still picture the setting–an outdoor patio on the edge of an irregular shaped cove of eateries. I was studying abroad in a little seaside town in Normandy, and the professor had taken us students to the nearby city of Caen for dinner. Dimly illuminated by little lights all around us, the 14 students and our professor sat looking at the menus. One thing caught the professor’s eye: anchovy pizza. No one would split it with him. Except me.
I remember that evening vividly, despite it being over a decade ago. For some reason the idea of eating anchovies on pizza was exotic to that group of Seattle university students studying political science and French in Normandy. It actually surprises me, looking back at it, that I was the only one to eat it. It was good.
Anchovies are one of those foods, briney and bold, that I’ve enjoyed since I was a kid. Like pickled herring, all sorts of olives, and strong cheeses. My parents would regularly order Greek salads from a neighborhood restaurant, and I would take little nibbles of the anchovies, their tiny pin bones prickling my mouth as the salty flavor burst on my tongue. If I found anchovies intriguing as a kid, why not try them on pizza, right?
Some years later, while on our honeymoon in Italy, my husband and I walked into a tiny sliver of a pizza shop in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori to order lunch. I can’t remember our entire order, but I’ll never forget the special pizza they were doing that day: anchovy and zucchini blossom. Much different from the tomato sauce-based pizza I shared with my politcial sceience professor in Normandy, this pizza was based upon a perfect dough, with little more than olive oil, salt, anchovies, and the delicately fragrant little blossoms scattered on top. For the past several years, it has been a summertime tradition for my husband and I to visit the farmers market weekly to hunt for zucchini blossoms. We visit the same farmers week after week, checking in on the status, and excitedly making a beeline to the blossoms as soon as we spot them. We experiment with different recipes for pizza dough, trying to come up with one that will someday form our signature crust, and we build our pizza and eat it, savoring the explosion of flavor that comes with each bite.
Knowing my history with anchovies, you can probably imagine my excitement when I received Scandilicious Baking–Signe Johansen’s new cookbook–in the mail a few weeks ago and found a recipe for anchovy-dill butter. Johansen instructs readers to combine butter with Swedish Abba anchovies, dill, and a little salt until blended, and offers suggestions for how to eat it, such as on fish or potatoes. I decided to try it out, substituting my usual oil-packed anchovies for the Swedish ones and compensating by greatly reducing the quantity of anchovies. Wow, that butter packs a punch. I’m keeping it stored in my freezer right now, and I find myself chipping off a little bit of it to taste every once in a while, like a kid taking a bite of cookie dough while his mom isn’t looking.
One of the wonderful things about flavored butters is how they can elevate simple, quality ingredients into something special with absolutely no effort. Having this butter in my freezer has been inspiring me to think creatively about flavors, looking to Scandinavian cuisine, of course, but also to places like Provence, where anchovy is commonly paired with lamb, a surprisingly good flavor combination. Here are some of the creations I’ve enjoyed recently. If you find yourself inspired as well, I’d love to hear your ideas!
Pan-grilled Lamb Chops with Anchovy-Dill Butter and Brussels Sprouts
Rinse and pat dry two bone-in lamb shoulder chops and season both sides with salt. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat for several minutes until hot. Add a little olive oil, and when it begins to shimmer, add the lamb chops. Cook, adjusting the heat between medium and medium-high as necessary, for six minutes, until the lamb has developed a nice brown color. Flip the chops and continue cooking on the other side, adjusting heat as necessary, until the meat reaches a temperature of about 160 degrees for medium. Remove from heat and let rest for a few minutes.
While the lamb is cooking, cut 10 brussels sprouts in half lengthwise, and toss with a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, then add the sprouts, cut side down, cooking them, covered, for five minutes until the flat sides are caramelized. Remove the lid, turn up the heat to medium-high, and cook for several more minutes, stirring frequently, to let the rest of the sprouts start to brown. (This technique is adapted from 101 Cookbooks, and is a surefire way to convert brussels sprouts skeptics into enthusiasts.)
Divide the lamb chops and Brussels sprouts between two plates, and top the lamb with a teaspoon of chilled anchovy butter.* Garnish with sprigs of fresh dill.
Smørrebrød with Anchovy-Dill Butter, Green Leaf Lettuce, and a Hard-Boiled Egg
Toast a slice of bread. While the bread is still hot, smear a little chilled anchovy-dill butter* on top, covering the surface of the bread as the butter melts. Cover with slices of crisp green leaf lettuce, then arrange a sliced hard-boiled egg and a sprig of dill on top.
Serves one, but can be easily multiplied to serve however many you want.
*To make the anchovy butter, whirl butter, anchovies–Abba anchovies or oil-packed–and dill in a food processor until combined, adjusting quantities until you have a flavor profile that suits your tastes. Start light with the anchovies and dill, because their flavors are strong.