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Monterosso Anchovies

One of the most important products in the kitchens of Liguria.


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They fish this Bluefish also in other regions, mainly in Sicily and then a slightly different variety on the Adriatic Sea, but in the Cinque Terre area, and particularly in Monterosso it’s the King of all ingredients and it looks beautiful too with its blu-black back and rounded silver belly.

Anchovies are shiny and yummy, no matter how you prepare them!

The fishing tradition dates back to the Roman period, but it truly developed during the late Middle Age, when they also started to salt anchovies in order to conserve and use them as a trading chip with other populations. That’s how the salted anchovies became an essential ingredients also in other regions’ dishes, such as the Piedmontese bagna cauda.

In this area, we fish (actually they fish and I eat…) anchovies mainly in summer time at night, when shoals approaches the coastline around Punta Mesco to reproduce. Old fishermen in Monterosso tells that the best fishing night is June 29th, on Saints Paul and Peter’s day. On these nights small gozzi (i.e. wooden fishing boats typical of Liguria) with a lampara fixed on board leave the shore and get till more or less 12 miles. Once in the right area they switch on the lights that have the plankton getting fluorescent and attracting the anchovies into the surrounding net trap.

Attending to this scene is magic. It only happened to me a few times, but moved me so much. It’s like a different kind of poetry, but still poetry…

When I was a kid, and actually till the beginning of the nineties, it was quite common in this season to see women sitting on their threshold busy with the anchiovies’ salting, being surrounded by curious kids and greedy cats. A precious happy memory.

Monterosso anchovies
Old fisherman next to the lampara on the boat

Nowadays there are several rules and restrictions to follow and that’s why the Cinque Terre National Park entrusted the production of salted anchovies, locally called pan do mâ (i.e. bread of the sea), to the Cooperative Le Ragazze del Parco (i.e. The Girls of the Park) which, following the teachings of the elderlies took over and developed this culinary specialty accordingly to the new European standards. For further information about the Cooperative visit the National Park official website.

In Liguria there are almost unlimited recipes with anchovies.

The easiest one is simply on toasted bread and butter and a pinch of oregano on top of everything. My favorite one! When I have time to spend in the kitchen, I often prepare them stuffed and baked, but they are also excellent when cooked in a pan with olive oil, garlic and parsley, fried, on pizzas, with pasta, baked with tomatoes and potatoes… no matter how you decide to prepare them, I suggest you have a glass of cold Cinque Terre white wine to complete the meal in total Ligurian style.

Anchovies are also an very good excuse to visit amazing Cinque Terre. In Monterosso there are two big festivals in their honor: the Festival of fried anchovy during the third week end of June and the Festival of salted anchovy and olive oil during the third week end of September. I wouldn’t miss them 😉

P.S. please, do feel free to contact me for specific recipes.

eleonora

6 Replies to “The anchovies of Monterosso are worth a visit!”

  1. Hi! I loved your story. My husband and I will be visiting Monterosso this September. Do you know when the salted anchovy and Olive oil festival will be held?
    Thank you much.

  2. What dates are the anchove and olive festival in Cinque Terre in 2016? We are visiting in the middle of September.
    Thank you!

  3. My wife and I visited Sorrento march of 2015. We were introduced to lighty breaded fried anchoves at a small family resteurant. We are from Texas and the only anchoves we knew about is what we get in a can, extremly salty and smelly. When we tasted this fresh fried fresh anchoves we had no idea what we had been missing. They were ” GREAT”. Looking forward in going to the June festival. I hope there will be enough for “ME”.

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