Flavorful Cetara anchovies
The famous Cetara anchovies are caught off the Amalfi Coast and are used to make Colatura Tradizionale, an intense and flavorful sauce that has been used as a condiment for centuries.
Immersed in a landscape of vineyards and citrus groves, the small seaside village of Cetara on the Amalfi coast, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers unforgettable views and sunsets. Here in this small fishing town, the smell of fish winds its way through its picturesque streets. And it is here that the sea offers Cetara residents the loveliest and most elegant of all oily fish: the anchovy. They are caught just off the cast and are used to make the prestigious “colatura” sauce, which was appreciated already in Roman times and used as a condiment for meat and vegetables.
The wealth of wine and food products that distinguish the Amalfi Coast is dominated by fish that offers unique flavors. Catching anchovies in Cetara is an age-old tradition that reaches its peak on July 18, known as the “Notte delle Lampare” (Night of the Lamps), a ritual method of fishing anchovies. It takes place at night using small “lampare” that attract schools of anchovies that are then trapped in the “ciancole cetaresi”, the special nets used for this fishing method. Soon after being caught, the oily fish are cleaned by removing the head and insides and they are then preserved in layers in either salt or oil inside wood or terracotta containers.
The fishing season for anchovies runs from March 25 through July 22. It is during this period that the conditions of the Gulf of Salerno and the life cycle of the fish produce anchovies with a low fat content and that are particularly suited for being salted. The areas where they are caught include the Gulf of Salerno as well as part of the Bay of Naples, while they are only processed in the town of Cetara.
The anchovies are around 12cm long and have a very tasty flavor. They are preserved in washed sea salt exclusively from the salt flats in Santa Margherita di Savoia or Trapani, both in the region of Puglia. The tradition of salting fish allows it to be kept for the winter months or when the fishing season was lean.
The process of salting is what produces the colatura di alici, an amber-colored liquid produced by the aging of the fish under salt following an ancient method that has been handed down through generations of Cetara fishermen. The anchovies are covered in sea salt and placed, tail-to-head, in oak containers where they are pressed to eliminate the liquid that rises to the surface. The fish then age for around six months, depending on the size of the fish. The extracted liquid is gathered in jugs and then exposed to the sun to be reduced. It is then poured back into the anchovy boxes and then filtered through linen cloth.
Colatura has an intense and deep flavor with smoky notes and a distinct saltiness. It is used frugally to season foods. Its most common use is as a condiment for spaghetti or linguini which are always part of the Christmas Eve dinner on the Amalfi Coast. Colatura Tradizionale di Cetara is protected by a Slow Food Presidium and is produced according to strict regulations. It is an example of Italian food excellence and subject to different imitations and counterfeit production.
The nutritional value of anchovies allows them to play an important role in the Mediterranean Diet because they are rich in Omega 3 and unsaturated fats as well as calcium, iron, sodium and phosphorous.