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Although most 'anchovies' in Italy are preserved in salt (and come from Spain's Atlantic coast) from May to September smaller, more delicate Mediterranean anchovies appear. The proper acciuga or acciuca is actually a distinct species, unlike the other 'pesce azzuro', which might be any small fish. It plays an important role in local cuisines, as in puttanesca sauce.

In the south, fresh or salted, they're in everything. Look for 'white anchovies' (filleted and marinated in white vinegar) or anchovy fillets ground into a paste, an important ingredient in the classic Sicilian pizza, sfincione.

Salted Ligurian anchovies (Engraulis Encrasicolus L) are especially prized, tender and tasty due to the saltiness of the Ligurian sea. Fished at night between April and mid-October using electric or gas lamps to attract them ('della lampara') they are up to 20cm long and are prepared according to a traditional method in glass containers called arbanelle. They are designated IPG.

In the Cinque Terre, look for cotolette di acciughe (a rather labour-intensive dish of anchovies stuffed and then fried), or acciughe alla ligure (anchovies mariented in olive oil with parsley, garlic and oregano). In the same Rivera di Levante area, many anchovies end up in bagnun.

Liguria has been sending salted anchovies north to Piedmont since ancient times, where they are essential ingredients in the hot dip, bagna càuda or for the classic antipasto, acciughe al verde, finely chopped with parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and red chilli, and kept in the fridge for a couple of days before spread on bread or served with a bollito misto.

A number of regions also make special dishes from novellame, or baby anchovies and sardines.

The words alice and acciuga are pretty much interchangeable. Ask ten Italians to distinguish between the two and you may get ten different answers.

Other names include the Piedmontese and Ligurian anciùe or anciove, and the Sicilian alaccia or anciovi.

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Chad Kainz