Over time, I’ve collected many tiny mantras to live by.
Always hold the door. Keep my feet on the ground. Make time for kale and champagne. Walk, don’t run. Examine everything. Write it down.
Those are a few. They’re not literal – most are merely cues for other actions – like recognizing others and finding balance and humility and looking really hard at the world, always. But they work. Now and again I glance over my little list, and they remind me to be more as I’d like to be.
Here is one more:
When in doubt, remember anchovies.
I know, I know. Anchovies. Funky salty pungent greasy messy anchovies.
My family often ate pizza on Friday nights growing up, after my littler sisters were born and we moved to the “new house.” We ordered from a Windsor restaurant called Koolini, and my dad was on to something, because they make really delicious pies. Always on the side would be an oil-slicked plastic container, stuffed with anchovies.
Dad probably got a kick that his eight-year-old daughter would dominate those little fish – draping them over pizza slices and licking the salty remnants off her fingers. But once I tried them, they just made sense, and still do – savoury and intense and cured to the best possible texture.
Anchovies, like so many things in life, are better – delicious – if you can get past a false impression. Like so many things in life, we often don’t.
My day job has taken over my weeknights for the last while. On those evenings when more work looms past dinner, when time spent cooking is replaced with computer time, it’s been anchovies to the rescue. Draped over buratta on some baguette, bracing acidic tomatoes in a quick sauce, whirred into vinaigrette to douse over romaine or roasted cauliflower. Dinners with rewards so much greater than their efforts.
I eat these little fish and I think of all the wonderful things – people, places, foods, experiences – that we never get to know because they are gross, or not our type, or out of the norm. As I am remembering anchovies, I am remembering joys that are gained through an open heart and willingness to be less dogmatic about who I am and what I like.
What are your tiny mantras? And when did you eat your first anchovy?
Peaches. Amongst summer fruits, their season is one of the most fleeting. In and out of the market, it seems, within weeks. So, when I can, I snatch them up. Which is how, at the weekly Sick Kids’ Market, I came to acquire a 3L basket containing 19 beautiful cling-stone specimens.
Peaches are the worst offender on the dirty dozen list of fruits and vegetables for pesticide exposure. And it’s near-impossible to find organically grown peaches locally. That said, I’d rather buy delicious Ontario Peaches than organic mealy ones imported from half-way across the world. It’s helpful to ask questions. Most farmers will be honest as to whether they spray their crops and what kinds of pesticides they use. Many small local farms just aren’t certified for reasons of economy and scale, but use near-organic practices. These peaches weren’t organic, but they were grown locally and un-sprayed. That’s good enough for me.
Now: for a family, 19 peaches is small change: they’re eaten up within a few days. One gal can only eat so many peaches out of hand, though, and I knew exactly how I wanted to use some of these – in a peach-ricotta pizza. Sweet from the peaches, salty and creamy from the ricotta, with a chewy crust and lively cilantro topping, it was a perfect summer meal.
Peach-ricotta pizza with cilantro salsa verde
(makes one small rectangular pizza)
2 ripe peaches, thinly sliced
1/4c ricotta cheese
1 ball (approx. 300g) pizza dough*
olive oil to coat
coarse or sea salt & black pepper to taste
*you can make pizza dough from scratch, but on weeknights for simplicity and lack of mess, I pick up a ball from my local pizza place. It’s a couple dollars and makes the whole process much simpler.
Preheat your oven to its hottest setting: most home ovens max out at 550 degrees F. A pizza stone isn’t required, but if you have one, you’ll want to heat it as well. If you’re using a sheet pan, grease it lightly with olive oil.
Stretch the dough out to fit the pan. I make a rectangular pie about 10 inches long and 6 across. It doesn’t have to be perfect – dough is forgiving – keep stretching until the thickness is roughly even. Let the dough rest while you prep your other ingredients.
Stone the peaches and slice them thinly across lengthwise. Arrange them on the pizza dough and scoop blobs of ricotta over the peaches. Sprinkle liberally with salt and ground pepper (if desired).
Pop into the oven and bake for approximately 12 minutes, until the crust is golden and puffy. Slice and serve.
Cilantro salsa verde
(makes one 500mL jar)
This is totally optional – the pizza is great without it – but it really makes the pie summery, as the grassy notes contrast with the sweet peaches. And this is really a bastardized version of a proper salsa verde, just so the purists don’t come after me.
1 small bunch cilantro
3 Tbsp cold water
1/2tsp sea salt
3Tbsp of your best olive oil
In a blender or food processor, pulse the cilantro, salt and water until you have a sauce (the water is there to get the whole lot moving, use less if you can). Pour into a sterile jar and gently mix in the olive oil. Keep in the fridge for up to a week. Unused quantities can be frozen in an ice cube tray and defrosted as needed.
Other delicious uses: as a bread dip, sauce for white fish of all types, salad dressing, alongside mellow cheeses, stirred into mashed avocado … and pretty much anywhere else you would use cilantro.