Eggs and anchovies

scrambled-eggs with anchovies

My first memory of cooking was with my grandmother, Rosemary, in Sydney. She taught me how to make scrambled eggs on her electric stovetop, the kind with the coiled heating elements, in her small, linoleum-lined kitchen with cupboards that stuck a little when they closed. She was not an exceptional cook — I can remember plenty of bland and overcooked vegetables and custard made with powder to pour into pre-bought pie cases with tinned pineapple, her specialty — but she worked hard to put a balanced, home-cooked meal on the table three times a day, every day.

The eldest of eight children, she dropped out of school during the Depression to help her single mother look after her siblings and work as a seamstress at David Jones. When the Second World War broke out and she was engaged to my grandfather, Aubrey, she started working on war-torn planes (“sometimes looking as if a steam roller has gone over them,” she said) as a sheet metal worker, putting them back together, when many of the men who used to do this work were off fighting the war. She said it was just like dressmaking, only using different materials.

She had a twinkle in her eye and a distinct laugh that can really only be described as a cackle. She was a strong, incredibly smart woman with a fighter spirit who led her female co-workers out on the airport tarmac one day on a strike to earn equal wages to men. I am so proud that her story is taught as part of the Australian primary school curriculum.


Her dream was to have a home with that electric stove. In 1943 when she was 28 she was interviewed for Australian Women’s Weekly magazine for an article on women in men’s jobs during the war, where there is a photo of her that is etched in my memory, dressed in white, wearing a white bandana tied in a knot at the top of her dark curls, a plane behind her.

“It is heavier work than most of us were used to, but we like it because it is interesting and we know it’s important. I am putting money into war savings certificates, as all the other girls are,” she explains. “We are planning a home when the war is over, and I want mine to be all electric — including stove and refrigerator. These are things very few of us working girls can afford in normal times when we marry, so if I can save enough for them my war job will have been doubly worthwhile.”

In my first ever cooking lesson that I can remember, Rosemary — Nanna Rose, we called her — showed me how to make scrambled eggs in a small saucepan on that electric stove that she saved up for working on war planes. We cracked and egg into a small bowl and beat it with a fork with a splash of milk and a pinch of salt. Then into the pan went a good knob of butter — my grandmother was very, very fond of real butter, which she would smother onto her toast with Vegemite every morning  — and when it began melting, over a slow heat, the egg went in. With a spoon, she showed me how to mix in the melted butter and gather the egg as it cooked around the edges, stirring slowly, waiting a bit, stirring again, until the thick, creamy flecks of egg began to take shape but are still glistening and soft. “You have to take it off now, just before it’s finished cooking, because it will keep cooking once you put it on the plate,” she instructed.

She may have overcooked her broccoli and brussel sprouts but I have always preferred this way of making soft, creamy scrambled eggs, exactly as she showed me, with real butter and plenty of it, and carefully cooking them slowly.

This recipe is almost a non-recipe, an idea, that is not mine. I had a delicious meal at Rawduck in London last year during my book tour for Florentine. I could eat everything on the menu there, but the scrambled eggs with anchovy was something that lingered in my mind for a long while after that. I tucked it away in a compartment, saving it for a day when I don’t have anything in the fridge or no desire to stand in front of a hot stove for long — or just want something that I know I will absolutely love every morsel of. Today, it is just what I need.


Scrambled eggs with anchovies — Uova strapazzate e acciughe

Fabio Picchi, Florence’s famous chef of Teatro del Sale and Cibreo, suggests to do this too, but with a fried egg, over the top of the sauce of melted butter and anchovies.  Salted anchovies are my preference — they are preserved under salt rather than oil, but if you only have the ones under oil that is fine too. Salted anchovies need to be split into their two fillets to pull out the spines. Soak and rinse them well under water to remove the excess salt, then pat dry before using.

For one person:

  • A large knob of butter
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • a few fresh herbs — parsley, chives, oregano, for example
  • 2 eggs, beaten in a small bowl

In a small saucepan or frying pan, melt the butter over low heat. As soon as it is melted and still pale, add the anchovy fillets and herbs and let them melt down into a glorious sauce. Tip the eggs in and swirl them through the buttery anchovy sauce slowly, letting the eggs rest only for a moment to cook before moving them again. When they are still glistening and a bit wobbly, not entirely opaque but almost, take them off the heat and place on a plate. No need for salt here, but pepper is nice. Serve immediately with some crusty bread.


  1. Robyn says:

    Can’t wait to try this version of scrambled eggs. I love Andrea Nguyen’s Viet version with fish sauce & tomato and anticipate a similar moreishness with this recipe.

    With their contributions during the war our antipodean mothers and grandmothers certainly helped instill a ‘girls can do anything’ mentality which made our paths easier even if many of their culinary skills belonged to a pioneer era. Can’t say that for their baking though – around me it was universally outstanding. My first cooking lesson was also scrambled eggs and remains a firm favourite.

  2. manuka honey says:

    Thanks! This help me alot! As my kids always ask me cook eggs.. they are egg lovers 🙂

  3. I love how your write your blog post on this. Is kind of artist feel. I love to eat egg. i gonna give this a try. Thanks friend!. 🙂

  4. kathryn wujciak says:

    Blogs are often so corny or so ‘cool’, but this story about your grandmother? Divine! It fills my heart with such happiness. And I love the non-recipe as well! Please don’t stop your beautiful writing and cooking…

  5. tony says:

    tried it because i only had anchovies and eggs in the fride.

    it works

  6. Sophie says:

    This was so delicious! I had some Ortiz anchioves in the fridge so decided to try this out and was blown away by the flavors. I may be the only one in the house who loves anchioves but this will be a new breakfast fave, thanks!

  7. Trisha says:

    Tasty. I only had dried herbs on hand and can’t wait to try it with fresh herbs.

  8. Kally says:

    Delicious! I tried the recipe with parsley and I look forward to trying different herbs, also. Thank you!

  9. shonell says:

    “Such a heartwarming story and a delightful recipe! 😊 Scrambled eggs with anchovies – a unique twist on a classic. I’ll be trying this for breakfast soon! Thanks for sharing your cherished memories and this delicious idea.”

  10. Karen says:

    I have been looking for pastas or “soft” food ever since my radiation treatments I endured. I lost all of my teeth, waiting on a referral here in the states is insanely long and painful and stressful. I’ve lost too much weight etc etc. So, my main question was that is says to put the anchovies down in the butter with an herb of our liking, and then you go on to just making the eggs itself. So, do we leave the anchovies in and mix with it? Or do we remove the anchovies? That’s my confusion. Maybe I read it wrong. If someone could help me clarify, it would be much appreciated! Thank you!!

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