The Liguria region by way of Roberto Caporuscio’s pizza
14 November 2022
The history of Ligurian anchovies and other culinary delights of Liguria
In Liguria they are also called 'u pan du mâ', the bread of the sea, because in the past they were able to feed entire families and could even be preserved for a long time. These anchovies are the representative product par excellence of this land of fishermen, and also the only Italian fish product to have obtained Protected Geographical Indication status.
Acciughe Sotto Sale del Mar Ligure PGI (Anchovies in Salt of the Ligurian Sea) have been produced along the Ligurian coast since ancient times. Indeed, the method of preserving fish in salt was already used in the 4th millennium B.C., while in the 16th century the statutes of Ligurian cities set out the rules and techniques by which anchovies were to be caught, processed and then marketed.
This is the Engraulis Encrasicolus, a variety of oily fish that migrates in the Ligurian Sea and is particularly suitable for pickling in salt, thanks to its soft, dense flesh in which the fillets adhere well to the bone.
Anchovies are fished between 1 April and 15 October, the period when they have reached their ideal size, between 12 and 20 centimetres in length.
Two traditional techniques are used to catch them: the 'ciancolo' net, which is a large rectangular net; and the lampara, a large lamp with which the sea is illuminated at night, so that the anchovies are drawn to the surface by the light.
Within twelve hours, the fish are then sent for processing, which involves several stages. It starts with the cleaning, which has to be done by hand, and then they are arranged in a radial form in terracotta or chestnut-wood vessels, where each layer of fish is alternated with a layer of salt and finally, on top, a disc with a large weight on it, so as to press everything down firmly. The anchovies must then be left like this for about 40 to 50 days, until the fillets have reached the classic compact appearance and a colour ranging from pink to deep brown. At this stage they can be stored in the characteristic arbanelle (glass containers).
Salted anchovies can be used to prepare a number of dishes, the most traditional being Ligurian-style anchovies, a simple hors d'oeuvre: just rinse the salt off the anchovies, season them with oil, garlic and oregano, and leave them to rest for a few hours so that they are flavoured to the right extent.
Beyond Ligurian anchovies
Among the products that represent the treasure chest of flavours of Ligurian gastronomy, one cannot ignore the famous Focaccia col formaggio di Recco (focaccia with cheese), which dates back as far as the 12th century but became popular in the 19th century, when a small group of local restaurateurs rediscovered it and decided to promote it. It can also be found in the municipalities of Avegno, Sori and Camogli, and gourmands can taste many different versions at the Focaccia col Formaggio Festival, held in Recco on the last Sunday in May since the mid-1950s.
Anchovies are cut into pieces together with onion, tomato sauce, garlic and taggiasche olives in the Pizza all'Andrea, a delicacy widespread throughout western Liguria and dedicated to Admiral Andrea Doria. It is known by different names depending on where it is prepared: for example, in Apricale, in the province of Imperia, it is known as Macchettusa, while in Sanremo it is called Sardenaira, because here they replace anchovies with tasty sardines.