Bigoli con topinambur in salsa di acciughe


A variation on the great Veneto dish of pasta with anchovy sauce, to take advantage of the excellent Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes) in England (the musically-named topinambur in Italian). The sweetness of the onion sets off the salty/fishy anchovies, but the sunchokes add a different flavour profile, maybe nutty.

Boil the ugly little bastards in water until yielding, then squeeze them out of their skins or not, as your taste goes: the skins have fibre and give great texture but might be difficult to digest, leading to mild stomach-ache and/or copious farts.

In another pan, soften in oil on medium/low heat: some onions with dried chili (I prefer the tiny Italian pepperoncini that seem to come from Malawi, but suspect Bangladeshi chili would be similar, if with a less subtle heat). Add chopped garlic and parsley, and get this soffrito soft. Debone/gut a salted anchovy (not the oil preserved ones if at all possible, they are horrid), which, if you don’t have a place that sells bulk anchovies, IASA make an Italian bottled anchovy preserved in salt and brine, that works fine. Use a good-quality Thai fish sauce (based on anchovies rather than shrimps or anything else) in extremis.

Put the anchovy into the soffrito, taking it off the heat (to keep the anchovy from burning), and crush the fish into a paste. Put in a tiny amount of red-wine or sherry vinegar, and turn up the heat – if it feels too hot, add a little water. Let the vinegar lose it’s raw taste, and put in the chopped up artichokes. Put in a little water from the boiling to regulate the sauce.

Put pasta (spaghetti or bigoli probably best) into the same water the artichokes were done in (this is a common feature of Sicilian cooking particular, to maximise the flavour of the pasta), maybe with some salt in the water. The water will turn gloriously chemical-green – I think that’s probably okay.

When pasta is done, put it in the sauce, add a little of the starchy water from boiling (the pasta continues to absorb water, so this is very important). Turn heat back on/up, and agitate the pan violently over the flames, with or without tongs, to coat the pasta and heat everything up, without cooking further. 20-30 seconds. Squirt on EVOO to give it that glisten we love, crush on some black peppercorns and serve.

Wine: not sure, probably a simple Veneto white, medium-body, not excessively fruit- or mineral-driven.