Spaghetti with Cetara Anchovies dripping… what is that?

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I tried, believe me: I tried. But I couldn’t find any other pasta recipe as quick as this…

The cooking is kept to the bare necessities: 10 to 12 minutes. I mean: you can’t expect to eat raw hard spaghetti! Do you?

So, no excuse: even the laziest of you, readers, can challenge themselves into making this iconic dish, symbol of Costiera Amalfitana, the latest testimony of the ancient Roman culinary legacy.

What do you say? Too much?

Ok, I might have been carried away once again, but this flavourful liquid amber, the Colatura di alici of Cetara is actually more than anchovies dripping: I’d say it is sea essence.

It’s a testimony of care, patience and dedication. It takes from March to December to make it and it still needs to be made in old oak wood barrels like in the old days… Old enough to route back to ancient Rome as it is the closest thing to a Roman fish based sauce called “garum” which was just as popular back then as ketchup is now for us.

But unlike ketchup, this anchovies dripping costs an arm of a leg: it can get up to 300€ per litre.

Now allow me to get a bit more into details…

The fishing season goes from March to July and it happens only in the waters around Cetara, near Amalfi. Twenty kilo of fish are needed to make 1 liter of dripping. Within 6 hours after been fished, the “alici” – the anchovies – get mixed with sea salt crystals and so they rest for 12 hours sweating their water out.

Then they are gutted and beheaded and put into small oak or chestnut wood barrels called “terzini” as they are sized one third of a barrel. They are accurately layered into the barrel and alternated with thick layers of sea crystal salt. Then the barrel is closed with a wooden lid that has a sort of wooden pedestal on top. A large stone (literally! a stone!) is put on the pedestal to compress the layers for the following 7 months squeezing the liquids out of the fish.

The moist comes up and filters through the gaps and gets collected on top of the lid while the stone slowly sinks. Finally, the barrel is set on a stand, a jug is placed underneath and the bottom of the barrel is drilled with a very thin gimlet, called “vriala”, which is rigorously fashioned, according to local traditions, by gipsies (come on… allow me to use this “politically-non-really-correct” term to keep up with the quickness of the process!). The tiny hole will allow the liquids to drip slowly from the top of the barrel into the jug, passing through the layers of fish and salt again and gathering all the residual flavours. The dripping will take 4 days… and you wonder why it is so expensive?!?

Good news is that you need only one tablespoon of dripping per person… so one single jar can last for ages.

“Spaghetti with anchovies dripping” is the traditional dish for the Christmas vigil dinner in Cetara, but this doesn’t mean you can have it any time of the year! It is surprisingly simple but so far from being ordinary!

And this is pretty much all. Curious much? Click here for the recipe!

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