A book that has, I’m told, not received the best of reviews lies open by my chair these days, and I’m enjoying it so far. The Ode Less Travelled is Stephen Fry’s guide to Unlocking the Poet Within. It’s a manual of metre, rhyme and form by someone who writes privately himself:
“I do not write poetry for publication, I write it for the same reason that, according to Wilde, one should write a diary, to have something sensational to read on the train.”
(If only we Canadians had trains to read on we might be better poets and diarists…?) He quotes Auden on the difficulties of writing free verse:
“The poet who writes ‘free’ verse is like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island: he must do all his cooking, laundry and darning for himself. In a few exceptional cases, this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but more often the result is squalor – dirty sheets on the unmade bed and empty bottles on the unswept floor.”
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has certainly produced something original and impressive in The Splendid Table, her 1992 guide to the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food. Interesting and unusual recipes, including this pasta sauce (which I have only slightly tweaked) which she says comes from the cooks of Modena’s and Ferrara’s Jewish communities. It features a substance unfairly despised and misunderstood in North America: the amazing anchovy. Be not afraid, and you will be fed.
Lemon Anchovy Sauce (Bagnabrusca):
2 2-oz cans anchovy filets
1 cup cold water
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup water
2 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped
6 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Rinse the anchovies and soak them in the cup of cold water for 10 minutes. Drain and coarsely chop.
- In a 12-inch heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until faintly golden but not brown.
- Add the parsley and anchovies and heat briefly, 30 seconds or so. Immediately stir in the 1/2 cup water and cook over low heat about 2 minutes, until the anchovies melt (isn’t that the coolest thing??).
- Blend in the tomatoes and lemon juice, raise the heat to medium, and cook 1 minute.
- Generously season with black pepper and scrape the pan over hot drained pasta – tagliarini is recommended. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with a further tablespoon of chopped parsley and serve (without parmesan or other cheese).