The Funky, 3-Ingredient Tuscan Sauce That's Ready in Less Than 5 Minutes

October 11, 2016

Italians have long loved anchovies as a flavor enhancer. Even the ancient Etruscans and Romans used anchovies to prepare their favorite condiment, garum—a salty, funky sauce made out of the fermented fish. If you want to showcase anchovies, though, turn to Tuscany's punchy sauce made from nothing more than extra-virgin olive oil, heated gently to draw out the flavors of anchovies and capers.

A classic from central Tuscany and known as Salsa del Valdarno (named after the Arno valley), the sauce is a variation of an old-fashioned anchovy sauce called acciugata. Somewhere between a paste and a sauce in consistency, acciugata is made with olive oil, anchovies, and garlic (reminiscent, in several ways, of Piedmont's bagna cauda and only a bit of parsley, garlic, and lemon juice away from being salsa verde). As much as I love the mellow garlic in a good acciugata, Salsa del Valdarno is my favorite. The pickled capers cut through the olive oil, adding a bite of salt and acidity.

Photo by Emiko Davies

In Tuscany, Salsa del Valdarno is used to dress a thick steak, grilled over charcoal and left bloody in the middle. But it's also a particularly wonderful partner to cauliflower. I like to toss the sauce with steamed or roasted cauliflower as a side dish, without the bread, but serving it on toast (a crostone), turns this into a quick, satisfying-yet-light meal.

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The sauce takes barely any time to make—and all of 2 minutes to warm through. It can be made with pantry staples (another reason to love it) and whipped together by eye and without measurements, which can account for the variation in flavor you'll find from kitchen to kitchen.

An easy, 5-ingredient meal. Photo by Emiko Davies

Add Salsa dal Valdarno wherever you want a salty kick. It's delicious spooned over eggs—either boiled and halved, fried, scrambled, or poached. Tuscans also like it on fried beef or veal. My Tuscan husband's nonna used to also stir it into cooked spaghetti for a quick and thrifty lunch. It’s no wonder it’s a much loved condiment: You get a generous amount of flavor for very little time, money, and effort.

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

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Top Comment:
“What brand of anchovies would you recommend? I am currently using Ortiz brand.”
— foofaraw

How do you feel about anchovies? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Connor Bower
    Connor Bower
  • foofaraw
  • Emiko
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Connor B. October 11, 2016
This sounds divine.
Emiko October 12, 2016
I am guilty of putting it on just about anything!
Connor B. November 3, 2016
Just wanted to let you know that I made this tonight for a quick after-work dinner and it was absolutely delicious!
foofaraw October 11, 2016
What brand of anchovies would you recommend? I am currently using Ortiz brand.
Emiko October 12, 2016
Living in Italy, my absolute preference is with salted anchovies, which you normally buy from a fishmonger and are somewhat meatier than anchovies in oil... but for convenience (and I always have a jar of of anchovies in oil on hand) I've listed anchovies in oil here. In terms of brands, I think Ortiz is a good one, Serious Eats did a fun (and helpful) test of different anchovy brands on their website, you might like to see it (Ortiz was their favourite too!):