Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't Fear the Sardine

I am here to tell you that you, too can eat these little fish so rich in Omega-3s! I have long known that sardines are wildly good for you and are neither high in mercury nor over fished, to boot. I've even eaten them in restaurants, in Spain and here in DC, at a Portuguese restaurant. Nonetheless, those little tins that I bought with the best of intentions have been lurking in the pantry simultaneously scaring the hell out of me and chastising me as I reach in for a can of tuna.

No more! Even after a recent winning recipe on Food52 featured a recipe for sardines and fennel with tomato, I was still skeptical about how such a recipe would be received by my family. Then I sampled a pasta with sardines in a tomato sauce at our local organic market, offered to entice shoppers to purchase Wild Planet sardines in olive oil for $2 and change per tin. One quick taste made me realize that this was much milder than I ever imagined. I bought two tins to add to my collection and grabbed a copy of the recipe the store was offering. I left the store unsure if or when I'd use them and wondered if those cans would turn in additional pantry hobgoblins.

Well, opportunity knocked that very night. The timing for driving Maddy home from a party, and our desire to watch our Netflix movie instead of letting it sit around for the usual month or two led us to decide that we should eat in. Pantry dinner to the rescue! I quickly came up with a recipe building on those Fortuna (please, please, let someone get this reference) had bestowed on me, but staying true to neither. Both Paul and I liked this one, really. It wasn't as fishy or as salty as he feared.

This is a sort of quickie version of a popular Sicilian dish. This time, due to the last minute nature of my decision to make this, the only fresh ingredients I added were some lemon, garlic and a little parsley for color. A glass of wine, some salad and this pasta was a perfect last minute dinner.

Sicilian Style Pasta con Sarde (serves 4 - 6)

1 pound fusilli or casarecce pasta (whole wheat would work well here)
2 tins sardines in olive oil (I actually used one oil packed and one tin of water packed which worked well and reduced the oil)
1 -2 tablespoons olive oil
3 - 4 fat cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 cups no salt added, strained tomatoes (I use Pomi or bionaturae)
2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, diced ( I had some slow roasted cherry tomatoes I'd made for another dish which I used instead - if you'd like to make some, halve the cherry tomatoes and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper over all of the them and throw a couple of springs of fresh thyme over top. Roast at 225 degrees for about three hours. You want them somewhat dry but not completely desiccated)
juice of 1/2 medium to large lemon
salt, to taste
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (I use whole wheat, usually homemade which I keep stored in a Ziploc in the freezer)
2 -3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1. Put up water for the pasta and when boiling, prepare pasta according to package directions. When you drain the pasta, reserve about 1/2 cup to use in the sauce.
2. While pasta cooks, heat a high sided saute pan or Dutch oven large enough to hold all the ingredients, over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of the oil from one of the tins as well as 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic and let it soften but not brown.
3. Once the garlic has softened, about a minute or two, add the rest of the oil and sardines from first tin to pan. Drain the second tin and add that those sardines as well. Break up the sardines a bit.
4. Add the tomato paste and mix it in. Add the oregano, basil and Aleppo pepper as well, and let the mixture cook for another minute or two.
5. Add in the strained tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes and lemon juice and let mixture simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste sauce for salt and add a couple of pinches, if needed.
6. In a small skillet, toast breadcrumbs in 1 tablespoon olive oil until lightly browned. mixing often. Set aside.
7. When pasta is cooked and drained (and you've reserved 1/2 cup of cooking water), add pasta to pan with sauce. Mix so that all the pasta is well coated. If it seems dry, add some of the cooking water, a little at a time until you like the consistency.
8. Off the heat, mix in the bread crumbs and parsley and serve with parmesan cheese.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


It's funny - I wasn't even thinking about the timing when I made jambalaya the other night. I just happened to have some leftover chicken and a few shrimp and thought this would be a good way to use them together. I added in a couple of sausage (which turned out to be merguez rather than the andouille I thought they were - no matter, they were still delicious) I'd bought at the farm stand and frozen in the fall and we were eating well. When I realized that Mardi Gras is fast approaching, I thought I'd post this right away.

I've been playing with brown rice in this recipe for a while and this method seems to work pretty well. I have tried it in the oven, but stove top makes it easier to peek in and check liquid level. This is not a difficult recipe to make, but it does require some cooking time in the pot because of the brown rice. Try it this weekend!

You can play around with the protein in this recipe. I used fresh shrimp, sausage and a little already cooked, leftover rotisserie chicken. You could easily leave out the chicken or use fresh chicken thigh meat. Or, you could use chicken or turkey andouille sausage. I've also made this with a little crabmeat which is also delicious.

You might notice that I've left out one of the trinity of New Orleans style cooking - the green bell pepper. I really don't like them so I tend to leave them out. Feel free to add about a half a diced green bell pepper in with your onions and celery.


(serves 4 - 6)

1 pound fresh shrimp

2 links (about one half pound) andouille sausage

about 2 cups diced up rotisserie or leftover chicken ( you can also use two or three raw boneless skinless thighs if you prefer)

1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 nice large onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 fat garlic cloves, diced

1 teaspoon red pepper paste (I happen to have this so I used it as I don't use bell pepper. Please do not think you should go out and buy this specialty item if you do not have it!!)

2 tablespoons Cajun spice mix (I make my own and store it in a spice jar, and provide the recipe below but you can use a packaged blend. Just check the sodium!)

2 teaspoons flour

2.5 cups low or no sodium added chicken stock

1 can (14.5 ounce) diced fire roasted, no salt added tomatoes (if you can't find fire roasted, just use regular no sodium added diced tomatoes)

1 cup brown rice ( I like to use Uncle Ben's brown rice in the orange bag for this - it's a little shorter grain than some)

3 -4 scallions, sliced

1. Peel and devein the shrimp and set aside

2. Slice andouille sausage into approximately 1/2 - 1 inch chunks. Heat a skillet over medium heat and cook the sausage, turned once or twice until nicely browned. Remove sausage from pan and reserve (If you want to use raw chicken thighs brown them here and set aside with sausage).

3. Heat a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat, then add the olive oil and then the diced onion, celery and pepper if you're using it. When the onion begins to soften, add the garlic and cook another few minutes until onions are translucent.

4. If using red pepper paste, add that to the Dutch oven and then the spice mix and flour. Mix well and let cook for a couple of minutes.

5. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, and brown rice. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Add the sausage (and chicken too if you started with raw) back in and cover pot. Let simmer for about 55 minutes. Check the liquid after about 40 minutes to make sure it hasn't cooked down too much. If it seems dry, add another half cup to a cup of stock or water.

6. Add in the shrimp (and already cooked chicken if you're using it), and let simmer, covered, for another five minutes or so.

7. Take the pot off the heat and let sit for about 10 more minutes. Sprinkle scallions on when ready to serve.

Cajun Spice Mix

In a small bowl, mix together the following:

1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons onion powder
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

store in a sealed container.