Colatura di Alici could easily be one of the most elusive ingredients that I have yet to come across. A fermented anchovy sauce produced in Campania and specifically in the village of Cetara between Salerno and Naples, it is often considered as ‘liquid gold’.
Try it and you will know why the term ‘liquid gold’ is no exaggeration.
Cetera is a fishing village that is famous for its canned anchovies and tuna as well as the colatura di alici.
Italian products normally travel well and can be found anywhere in the world but I was surprised to find how difficult it is to get your hands on ‘colatura di alici’.
You will find it hard to believe that speciality Italian shops (both in Italy and outside) do not stock it and neither do supermarkets. Even in Italy, I’ve found it hard to come across though I was lucky to procure a bottle in a delicatessen in Siena on a recent visit.
It is said that colatura di alici derives from Garum, a fermented fish sauce that was used as a condiment in the cuisines of ancient Greece, Rome and Byzantium.
It is sometimes called a ‘noble’ liquid even though it derives from one of the most humble ingredients that come from the sea – the anchovy.
The colatura is still made in the traditional way. The anchovies are filleted and pressed under salt in a wooden barrel. They are left for around five months before the barrel is gently pierced and the ‘liquid gold’ is collected drop by drop in jars.
This process results in an orange liquid that is sold in transparent jars and will lift and season your food like no other ingredient.
In the past weeks, I’ve been experimenting with the colatura di alici di Cetara in a number of dishes (albeit mainly with pasta).
One such dish (recipe below) is a very simple but tasty pasta which you can make in the time it takes to cook the spaghetti. The other is a recipe from Massimo Bottura’s book Never Trust a Skinny Italian chef which you can find here. I’ve tried this recipe and it is exactly how Bottura describes it. “Spaghetti Cetarese is the perfect example of the generosity of humble ingredients: with so little you get so much. You just want to keep eating it for ever.”
Bottura’s recipe is obviously much more complex and requires some preparation but trust me, you have to try it. It is so good and there is so much depth of flavours that you may need to find a stockist for the colatura di alici because you will be making this so often that the liquid gold will finish in no time.
My simple version of Spaghetti with Colatura di Alici
While Massimo Bottura’s recipe is really worth taking the time to replicate, here is a short cut version and one which you will come across in many restaurants on the Amalfi Coast.
- 180 grammes Spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (use the best you can find)
- 2 tablespoons colatura di alici
- 1 garlic clove (crushed)
- Chopped parsley
- Seasoned breadcrumbs
Boil the water (and do not add any salt) before cooking the spaghetti to taste (al dente). Use the best spaghetti you can find because it really makes a difference in this dish. While the spaghetti are being cooked mix all the ingredients until you create an emulsion. Add a few tablespoons of water as necessary and then toss together with the pasta when this is ready. You do not need to season with salt because the colatura will season your dish to perfection.
So where can you find colatura di alici? Probably the simplest way is to search online where a number of speciality stores sell it. I hope to find out the reason why finding it in shops is so elusive.
In the video below you can see how the colatura is made.