. . . in which I learn to embrace anchovies on pizza . . .
As a food professional—and pizza blogger, no less—it’s embarrassing to admit that I was a whopping 35 years old, neck-deep in a recipe testing gig, when I peeled back the lid on my very first can of anchovies. Sure, I’ve always enjoyed good Caesar salads and super-umami olive tapenades, but it’s easy to ignore the mushed-up fish in those applications. Since anchovies made zero appearances in my mom's meat-and-potatoes repertoire growing up, all I knew is that loads of people hate them, and a small minority of people can't live without them. (Well, and that team anchovy is all about using the preserved fish as pizza toppings . . . )
The recipe that forced my hand was a pizza with eight whole anchovies splayed on top after baking. It was a bit too intense for me, but at the same time I was intrigued by the briny, mineral flavor those mini, salt-cured fish contributed to the finished product. It helped me understand why anchovies play such an important—albeit unheralded—role in cuisines all over the planet.
According to Mark Bittman in this New York Times piece from way back in 2000, “anchovies are not overpowering, at least once cooked. Used with garlic as the start of a fast pasta sauce, they dissolve almost instantly and add a mysteriously meaty complexity that makes the sauce seem as if it had simmered for hours." A 2006 piece in Chowhound extols these micro-fish as "a chef’s secret ingredient. . . . Mario Batali often adds a few salt-cured anchovies to braising meats. Ana Sortun of Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts, stirs a few fillets into her Mediterranean Braised Chard, where they counteract the sweetness of the raisins. At the New York restaurant Savoy, Peter Hoffman slips a few under the skin of a roast chicken."
So, without further ado, I give you my first anchovy pizza: a deconstructed take on classic puttanesca, with simple marinara, black olives, capers, red onion, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese.
Pizza alla Puttanesca
- 1 (14- to 16-ounce) ball pizza dough
- ½ to ¾ cup super-easy marinara sauce made with ¼ teaspoon salt, a few shakes of dried oregano, and a pinch or two red pepper flakes
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup grated fresh mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup kalamata olives sliced
- 1 tablespoon capers rinsed, dried, and chopped
- ¼ medium red onion very thinly sliced
- 4 to 8 oil-packed anchovy fillets patted dry and halved lengthwise
- red pepper flakes
- freshly ground black pepper
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley and basil
- Place your pizza stone or steel (if using) on an oven rack in the middle of your oven. If you plan to cook your pizza on a baking sheet, just place a rack in the middle of the oven (you do not need to preheat the baking sheet). Preheat the oven to 500°F (or the highest temperature your oven will allow, if using a pizza stone/steel) and let it heat up for at least 30 minutes while you make the dough and/or prep the toppings.
To stretch or roll out the dough
- Place the dough on a clean work surface and, using your hands, gently stretch it into a 12-inch circle or square, making sure that it retains an even thickness throughout. Alternatively, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a 12-inch circle or square.
- If you’re using a pizza stone or steel: Dust a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet lightly with flour or cornmeal. Place the dough disk on the prepared peel.
- If you’re using a baking sheet: Spray the baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the dough disk on the prepared baking sheet.
To top the pizza
- In a small bowl, mix together the parm and mozzarella cheeses.
- Spread the sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border all around. Top with half the cheese, the olives, capers, onion, and anchovies. Sprinkle with a pinch or two of red pepper flakes and a few grinds of black pepper. Finish with the remaining cheese.
To bake the pizza
- If you’re using a pizza stone or steel, 20 minutes before you are ready to cook the pizza, increase the oven heat to broil. Slide the pizza from the peel (or inverted baking sheet) to the hot stone or steel using quick shimmying movements. Broil the pizza until the crust is golden and the cheese begins to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Using the peel or inverted baking sheet, transfer the cooked pizza to a cutting board. If you are making more than one pizza, allow the pizza stone or steel to reheat under the broiler for 10 minutes before you cook the next one.
- If you’re using a baking sheet, do not increase the oven to broil. Place the baking sheet on the rack in the middle of the oven and bake until the crust is golden and the cheese begins to brown, about 10 minutes.
- Immediately after you take the pizza out of the oven, drizzle it with some olive oil and top with the chopped parsley and basil. Slice and serve.
Ray Melchiorre says