Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Spicy Anchovy Greens


Anchovies are much maligned. Despite the prominence in the title, the little anchovy here is quite demure. In fact, nearly hidden. A couple of small fillets is all this recipe needs to transform simple sauteed greens into something deeper, richer and far less ascetic than "greens" signals to the modern eater.

It's part of the title only to avoid the surprise and potential wincing when you read through the small ingredients list. Don't let stereotypes of bad fillets on even worse pizza or popular sentiment (in America, anyway) prevent you from trying this just once. This poor little fish makes these greens sumptuous and (as much as I hate to utter it) healthy. Yes, you can put those two words together, thanks to the little anchovy.

Fresh Broccoli Rabe

The colder weather here strikes up a craving for heavier foods. But within a week or so of the crisp fall/borderline winter chill, my stomach has already reacted with a digestive strike of sorts. It's part of winter eating. Celebratory, filling or cause for comfort. Every few weeks I need the simpler, less complicated complicated of sturdier winter greens and leafy cruciferous veg, the kind you cook. The kind that for one reason or another has always instilled a sense of fear in people.

These hardier varieties like cavolo nero (Lacinato or Dinosaue Kale), broccoli rabe, Chinese broccoli (gai larn), broccoli, etc. need a kick of flavor. Garlic has always been part of my relationship to greens. Then lemon zest and juice (everything is better with lemon; it can make everything, even winter things smile). And for this a bit of heat from a dried chili. A fresh red would do, too. I keep the seeds lying around in the dried shell and be careful not to break it open when I stir it around the pan. Those less adventurous can certainly crack open the thing and shake out the rattling seeds.

But the anchovy is a more recent addition to the recipe. Partly produced by a craving for bagna cauda (hot olive oil, anchovy dip from Northern Italy) and these greens, I figured I could mock one up with a little heat and dress my greens. Oil-packed varieties are best. And yes, you use the bones, though I would like to see someone try to de-bone the slippery thing. But everything, bones and all, cooks down into the sizzling olive oil and garlic. Its salty nature makes it so that you don't really need to salt/season the greens, unless you're the type that likes to lick the salt from the bottom of the potato chip bag or roasted nut container.

It really comes together when the lemon hits the pan. That fragrance is a sign of a good meal to come.

Green's Aromatics

Spicy Anchovy Greens


Serves 4

1 bunch Chinese Broccoli (Gai Larn) OR broccoli rabe OR broccolini OR Lacinato/Cavolo Nero Kale * 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced * 2 anchovy fillets (from an oil-packed jar, yes bones and all) * 1 dried red chili pepper * zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

Blanch the greens of your choice in a large pot of boiling, salted water. (Blanching = briefly boiling the veg for 2 to 3 minutes to get the color heightened, but not enough to cook it all the way through).  Drain the greens into a large colander and set aside for a moment.

Heat some olive oil —  no need to get elegant with the selection, you don't need a pricey bottle for this moment of heat — in a large sautepan over medium heat. Add the garlic. It should sizzle quietly, lightly around the edges of the garlic slices. You don't want to brown them, just get the flavor out and into the oil.

After a minute, add the anchovies. Use a wooden stir to gently mash them as you stir the garlic and anchovies about. Eventually, they shouldn't resemble fish at all. This should take about 2 minutes. Add the dried chili pepper and lemon zest, stir for about 30 seconds.

Add the blanched greens and stir to get the veg coated with the aromatic oil and saute and sizzle for about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how long it takes for your chosen green to cook to a stage where it's easy to bite through, but still bites back just a little. Squeeze over the lemon juice and stir. Remove pan from the heat and serve the greens immediately.

I love it with basmati or jasmine rice, plain and hot. Excellent with buttered noodles.