Crostini con Alici e Burro is all about the quality of the ingredients. Bread, butter, and anchovies – three things that go together perfectly. The combination of salty anchovies and creamy butter meeting on top of a slab of charred bread strikes me as surely meant to be. But I didn’t think of it. In fact, I first came across this combination at a tiny bistro in Los Angeles so I assumed this trifecta was French in origin.
I was wrong. I recently did some armchair travel with the cookbook Tasting Rome where I discovered Alici e Burro is ubiquitous in Rome. Sometimes it’s tossed with spaghetti, more often it’s served on toasts meant to accompany a sip of sparkling wine or a gulp of something stiffer.
A sentiment that makes me want to travel to Italy (without the armchair).
I miss travel. The pandemic makes it silly for me to even think about it right now. In the meantime, Crostini con Alici e Burro takes me and my thoughts straight to Rome.
Crostini con Alici e Burro
It’s a recipe that requires no recipe. If you skip ahead you’ll see. There’s no recipe. Indeed it’s so simple hosts often serve anchovies, butter, and crunchy bread in three piles on the table – ready to assemble and eat. It’s so common that Romans will order it as an appetizer even when it’s not on the menu.
While it’s nearly impossible to mess up this dish, there is one important thing to remember: it begins and ends with just three ingredients, so they all matter.
Choose a freshly baked, crusty loaf of bread with a soft interior and a tight crumb. Preferably sourdough. I like it sliced lengthwise through the loaf for a “let’s jump in and share” presentation. But individual slices are more common. Either way, you can char the bread slightly under a broiler, grill it, or just plain toast it. Just don’t let the interior get too crunchy.
As for the butter: choose cultured if you can. Cultured butter contains active bacteria that give it a distinctive tangy taste. Make sure the butter is room temperature so that it spreads easily on barely warm (not hot) bread. You’ll want to spread it thickly – side-to-side and end-to-end – covering every bit of the surface.
Finally the anchovies. I assume if you’ve read this far that you’re the type of person who likes anchovies. I don’t really want to weed through comments telling me that anchovies smell weird or taste fishy or are generally gross.
Now that I’ve said that I’ll admit it’s true. Sometimes anchovies smell weird or taste fishy or are generally gross. Bad anchovies are… intense. But the good ones pack a nice salt punch and a clean ocean flavor. So look for salt or olive oil-packed fish. They have a tender, meaty texture and I like what the marinating does to the bones. The best of them will come in a jar, not a tin. I buy Ortiz anchovies. GREG
PS: I did include a recipe for the Parsley Compound Butter I used on the toast. It’s not part of the traditional presentation. But it’s how Crostini con Alici e Burro was served to me recently at Fingers Crossed – a pop-up Roman-style pizzeria on a patio in Hollywood, CA.