ST. REMY, FRANCE — A friend of mine says that if given the choice between a chocolate truffle and a cracker topped with an anchovy, he'd choose the latter. No contest.
I typically prefer savory treats to sweet ones, too, but anchovies over chocolate? No thanks. I've never been keen on those salty, oily, little fish. "Anything but anchovies," I'd say when ordering late-night pizza with college friends.
That was before France. During a recent five-day cooking course in Provence, I had no choice but to cook with the dreaded fish almost daily. Somehow, though, I not only learned to like them, but I savored them in tapenade, on toast, even mashed with garlic and slathered over roast leg of lamb.
At one point, when Nito Carpita, our teacher, turned her back on two of us in charge of mixing the tapenade, a fellow student and I snuck in a few more anchovies to give it a little extra savory kick. At that evening's critique session, there were only raves about our pungent tapenade.
I've been perplexed about this ever since. How can one's palate change so dramatically? Was I just so enamored of Provence and its bounty of fresh, local ingredients that I became an anchovy lover like the rest of them? Perhaps author Peter Mayle would know. He seems to understand a few things about the seductions of southern France.
When sharing my experience with New England chef Jasper White, he commented, "Americans love anchovies, they just don't know it." For example, he said, "Caesar salad is everyone's favorite." (A proper Caesar salad not only contains mashed anchovy fillets, but Worcestershire sauce, which also contains anchovies.)
So perhaps I was an anchovy lover all along. A little more research tells me that I also happened to be in the right place. Although anchovies can be caught in any of the world's waters, there are many different species, and the best ones come from the Mediterranean and southern European coastlines, according to the "Food Lover's Companion."
But you needn't hop on the next plane to Paris to get closer to the source. Your best local food market should have good-quality anchovies. If, like me, you've always avoided them, give them another try with these irresistible recipes from Mas de Cornud cooking school. You just might find yourself slipping a few extra anchovies into that tapenade, too.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society