The perfect snack for anchovy fans and a good conversion recipe for haters.
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Credit: Stacey Ballis

We all have idols in the kitchen. I don’t mean the iconic folks, like Julia Child or MFK Fisher, who have provided the foundations of the way we engage with our culinary and entertaining experience. I don’t mean the cookbook writers, like Anne Willan or Samin Nostrat, whose tomes have trained us to cook and be fearless in the kitchen. And I really don’t mean the television chefs whose casual ease doesn’t really take into account the team of assistants, prep chefs, and shoppers who allow them to poke around in their perfectly organized pantries for just the right ingredients, always miraculously available and at their peak.

Just once I’d like to watch Ina grab some key ingredient out of the pantry to discover it expired three years ago, or to see Nigella in her silk pajamas open a container from her fridge for a midnight nibble to find it moldy.

Get the recipe: Anchovy Sticks

The idols I speak of are the friends or family members who have mastered entertaining. True entertaining, which is more about the pleasure of the guests than the praise of the host. Comfortable and relaxed entertainers who are confident of their hosting abilities, and therefore are able to have a great time with their guests. The ones who create an atmosphere in their homes of ease and fun, regardless of whether the event is games and pizza in your sweat pants or an elegant dinner party with sparkly dresses and plated dinners.

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I am fortunate to have a few of these people in my life, and they sit on my shoulder when I am planning a gathering. Sometimes they argue amongst themselves. My grandmother is always poking at me from the great beyond to make just one more dish, or try one more recipe, while my darling husband reminds me that fewer things done well are plenty and no one will go ever hungry at our table.

One of these more recent additions to my team of aspirational advisors is my new pal Jacqui. She lives in London, so we don’t get to see each other in person very often, but I love imagining how she might advise me when I’m doing preliminary planning, and she is always just a What’sApp away when I need input.

One of the things that makes Jacqui such a hero of mine is that her approach to hosting is about warmth and abundance, not making yourself crazy. She laughs while she cooks. She is a great teacher, so if you are cooking together, she will offer really terrific tips along the way to make tasks easier, but never feels like a dictator or drill sergeant. She accepts help gracefully, which I always struggle with, and pivots on a dime if something goes awry. And our style of entertaining, a simple plated starter followed by either family style or buffet, and the host at the table enjoying the guests, a long linger over dessert, and clean-up after they depart, is terribly simpatico, albeit she does it with an impossibly fabulous British accent.

She, like me, has embraced paring down pre-dinner snacks to just nibbles, enough to pair well with a cocktail or glass of bubbly, but not so much as to ruin the appetite for dinner. She has a toolkit full of great little bites, all of which are simple to prepare and utterly delicious.

Even better, many of them are more of an idea rather than a true recipe, which makes them easy to share. Which she does in an offhand manner, with a little chuckle.

These little anchovy crisps are just such a mouthful.

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Credit: Stacey Ballis

Stacey Ballis

I know for some of you anchovies are a weird hairy fish that you would prefer to stay far away from your pizza, and the idea of an anchovy crisp is gagworthy. But while this is a great recipe for anchovy fans, it can also be a good conversion recipe for the haters. You aren’t going to get a mouthful of anchovy, it is more of a seasoning, as it is in a Caesar salad dressing or pasta puttanesca sauce.

While anchovy can be something of a polarizing ingredient, these bites are definitively not fishy, the anchovy really bring just a wonderful combo of salt and umami to the party. Frozen puff pastry makes it the work of moments and a total pantry recipe. You can make them in different shapes if you are feeling creative, but I tend to make sticks, which up the crispy factor.

Don’t have anchovy filets? Use anchovy paste. If you are fish phobic, you can use thin strips of prosciutto. If you are serving vegetarians, you can swap out the anchovy for tomato paste or finely chopped cured olive. Want to try them a little spicy, give them a go with strips of Calabrian chiles.

Even better? The prepped dough sticks freeze beautifully, so you can make a double batch, lay them on a sheet pan on parchment and freeze until solid, then stash the frozen sticks (or rounds or palmiers) in a zip-top bag in the freezer. Bake from frozen, just add a few minutes to the front end of the cooking time.

Get the recipe: Anchovy Sticks