Pasta with Sardines, Breadcrumbs and Tomatoes
You know, I like sardines. I do. They remind me of Grandpa Ferrario, my Italian papa. He loved anything canned, pickled or marinated, especially alongside a hunk of crusty bread. I can still picture his kitchen (which, really, was Grandma’s kitchen) and his little cupboard where he kept his snacks. It was down at knee level, so I’d crouch down there and look through the many exotic treasures. I understood, even as a child, that his tastes were influenced by Italy itself. Of this I was endlessly impressed, and strove to sample these strange and wonderful things as often as I could.
That is how I came to try “curiosities” like pickled pigs feet and sardines and anchovies. Since these early days, I’ve prided myself on trying anything that comes my way with an open heart and mind. I have my grandpa to thank for that. And, I suppose, you have my grandpa to thank for this recipe. When you take your first bite, I hope that you can imagine a family table on an Italian countryside, heavy with wine, bread, and loved ones.
It’s funny that sardines have such a poor reputation. The truth is that, in fact, they are a rather perfect food. Amongst the types of fish, they are one of the most sustainable and least contaminated. Like many fish, they’re full of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. The bones are tiny and soft enough to eat, so they’re a dairy-free source of calcium. They’re also high in vitamin D, which is rare for any type of food (and, of course, helps our body absorb calcium). What’s more, they’re yummy, easy to prepare, and incredibly cheap. The more I learn about sardines, the more I want to cook with them!
You may not be ready to peel open a can and pop them like candy just yet. Which is why this is such a perfect recipe – an introduction to sardines, if you will. They’re lovely brininess is made richer from the wickedly yummy garlic breadcrumbs, and fresh lemon juice and sweet cherry tomatoes add a brightness to balance the dish. It tastes rustic and hearty, and conjures images of the lands and seas of the Mediterranean. Who wouldn’t like that?
- 1 box (13.25 oz) whole wheat spaghetti
- 1 can (3.75 oz) sardines in olive oil, roughly chopped
- 14 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced
- 4 slices whole wheat bread, stale or lightly toasted
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bunch fresh parsley, stems removed, chopped
- 1/2 - 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, depending on spice preference
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 lemon
- fresh grated parmesan, optional, for garnish
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- Pulse bread in a food processor until coarse crumbs are formed.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add 1/2 garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring often, until toasted brown.
- Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.
- To the same skillet, heat the oil from the canned sardines.
- Add the sliced fennel and the other half of the garlic and cook, stirring often, until fennel begins to caramelize.
- Add sardines and crushed red pepper to pan and sauté 3 minutes.
- Add drained pasta and stir 1 minute.
- Add tomatoes and parsley and stir 1 minute.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste
- Plate pasta, sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs, and squeeze lemon slices over the top.
- Serve with fresh grated parmesan, if desire.
Recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s Spaghetti with Chilli, Sardines and Oregano.