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.


  1. thanks for the recipe. I've been meaning to cook w/ sardines for some time since we all love them. And BTW, "A Confederacy of Dunces" is one of my favorite books!

  2. Yay Anna - hope you like it! A Confederacy of Dunces is huge in this family!

  3. I love sardines. Have a couple posts on my blog about sardines too.

    I noticed that you are from D.C. Am moving back to D.C. this summer, after nearly 10 years in Chicago. Any favorite D.C. restaurants? I've heard the food scene has changed quite a bit, but it's been a while...

  4. Great blog, Wild Greens! I am not the best person to ask about restaurants as we eat in so much. If we eat out it's usually Asian in the MD suburbs (Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese,Indian etc.) or high end celebration restaurants (Komi!). And Arlington is full of great places, too. I have not tried any of the many new places in the U Street Corridor area. Have heard great things about Rasika and also really liked Masala Art in Tenleytown. And I still love the Jose Andres restaurants: Jaleo, Zaytinya and Oyamel. Ano other DC-ers care to add?

  5. I should also mention the Blacks' restaurants: Addie's, Black Market, Black's, and Black Salt. Pretty much like them all! And welcome back!