Retro Heaven

Tea and Anchovy Toast

How William Boyd inspired my dinner!….

abWe drank tea and ate piles of anchovy toast” wrote Logan Mountstuart in his diary penned by William Boyd in the wonderful Any Human Heart (Penguin Fiction) A simple throwaway sentence which catapulted this particular reader to a special food memory and a rush to replicate that taste sensation.

For it was on the waterfront in Cape Town thirteen years ago that I penned my own diary entry of “Sat outside a café watching a ship being repainted. Pot of coffee and a plate of toast with anchovy paste and ripe tomatoes for £1.25!” How remarkable then that Boyd’s words could trigger such a reminder and inspire me to create a pot of Gentleman’s Relish for lunch.

Boyd’s book begins in the early 1920s when a dish such as this was fashionable to eat. There are countless variations of anchovy paste and how best to serve it on toast. ‘Smear it’ on! I hear you cry, well, not so fast. If you, like me, prefer Elizabeth David to the current glut of food writers then you should turn to her classic French Provincial Cooking (1960) for the French version of anchovy paste, the slightly more romantic sounding anchoïde. David describes how the bread is toasted on one side with the paste smeared on the other with a fork and left to bake in a hot oven. She captures the essence of the dish perfectly; “It is by no means an everyday dish, but like so many dishes which one forgets about for months at a time, when one wants it, one feels that nothing else will quite do” How true, perhaps thirteen years is stretching it somewhat in my case but it is now a simple lunch or wine accompaniment which will feature more often at Chez Retroculturati. My brand new toaster demands nothing less!!

Some recipes call for butter, tomato puree, cognac etc. Mine is quicker and less elaborate. Take a pestle and mortar or food blender and mash a small jar of anchovies in oil with a clove of garlic. Add a splash of red wine vinegar or Lea and Perrins, whichever you are more likely to have. A pinch of cayenne pepper and a grind or two of black pepper. Stir in extra virgin olive oil and smear liberally across hot toast. Enjoy with a good book and a crisp Burgundy.

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