Ah, the Amalfi coast. It’s world famous for its gorgeous views of the sparkling blue sea, its status as the vacation spot of choice for chic celebrities over the years, its ultra-fragrant lemons, its….anchovies?
That’s right! The best anchovies (aka alici in Italian) in the world live in the part of the Mediterranean known as the Tyrrhenian Sea, which follows the southwest coast of Italy from Tuscany to Calabria. Plump, meaty, and densely flavorful, the tiny fish are an important part of the local diet. On that stretch of gorgeous coastline is the tiny town of Cetara, the anchovy capital of Italy.
A fishing village that is home to around 2,000 people, Cetara is just a half-hour from the provincial capital of Salerno, but it feels like it’s a world away. Nestled at the base of the rocky cliffs that are typical of this stretch of coastline, Cetara has one main street that leads inland from the waterfront, where locals’ fishing boats jostle for position. Every summer, the town plays host to a truly magical festival, the Notte del Lampare (night of the lanterns), to celebrate the anchovy season. Fishing boats equipped with special lanterns sail out into the harbor at night, casting their nets as the bright lights illuminate the iridescent scales of the tiny fish as they swim. The festival begins with a procession at dusk through town, followed by music and dancing after the boats return to the harbor.
It is in Cetara that colatura, an ancient, ultra-savory seasoning similar to Southeast Asian fish sauce has been made since the Middle Ages. To make it, the tiny fish are caught, cleaned, and meticulously layered with salt in traditional wooden containers called terzigni, with a heavy stone on the lid to keep them pressed. They are aged that way for two years or more—the longer they sit, the more intensely flavorful the sauce. The process for making the salted anchovy fillets we love in Caesar salad, on bruschetta, and in pasta is the same, just with a shorter aging period—usually 5-8 months.
You’ll find anchovies both fresh and salted in nearly all of the seafood-focused restaurants that line the Amalfi coast. They are an affordable staple of local cuisine, often found simply fried in a traditional frittura or stuffed with cheese. Colatura plays a starring role in spaghetti colatura, a kind of agli e olio with the addition of the salty, umami-packed sauce. Ready to try Amalfi coast anchovies for yourself? We carry anchovy filets and an ultra-premium colatura from Armatore, a fourth-generation fishing family that maintains the old-school traditions of Cetara while practicing responsible ocean stewardship.
When I visited the Cinque Terre a number of years ago, I was amazed by the fresh anchovies and I could not eat enough of them! Do you know if fresh anchovies are ever available in the U.S.? Many thanks!