Pantry Pasta Series: Sardine Pasta
Ok, I know this one is a hard sell. I'll say it outright. But I'm asking you to hear me out and give me a shot anyways. Now is an especially great time to do so since tinned fish is having a serious moment.
I know the old saying is something like 'if you teach a man to fish, he'll never go hungry' but I'm of the belief that if you teach a person to buy tinned fish and keep it in their pantry, they will just as easily never go hungry. No worms involved. I keep a range of canned goodies on hand at all times; oil packed tuna for salads, fancy conservas for cocktail hour, sardines for this pasta (!), anchovies for flavour (note these are not shelf stable, they're in my fridge). I think this stocked up pantry notion comes from my Nonna, who's freezer and cantina were apocalypse ready at all times. Jokes on us now I guess. I don't remember her keeping sardines around, and the $30 tinned octopus certainly wasn't in her cupboard either. Growing up our fish-pantry pasta of choice was tuna in tomato sauce, a recipe maybe I'll also share. I do plan on adding to this 'Pantry Pasta Series' because these are like little kitchen saviors to have in your back pocket.
This particular dish is inspired by a cross between pasta con le sarde, classic Sicilian dish, and aglio e olio. In traditional Sicilian fashion, the original dish has fennel, saffron, raisins, pine nut and raisins. In traditional pantry pasta fashion, I skip over most of this. You can too. As always with my recipes, so much of this is optional, but highly recommended. I guess the only thing you can't get away from here is the sardines. But I hope you do it all. The chili is a nice kick, the fennel adds almost a floral and vegetal note to a dish that might have no vegetables, the onion gives some sweetness, the lemon zest brightens the whole thing. Finally, I love to finish this with toasted breadcrumbs which gives a perfect texture and before you think "why put carbs on carbs?" I'll tell you it's because it's delicious. Here's my version of dinner in 20:
1/2 bag spaghetti, but any long pasta works
olive oil and lots of it (maybe 1/4 cup)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves
some sliced chili or a generous dash or red chili flakes
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
a big handful of leafy greens *if you happen to have some
1 can sardines
zest of 1/2 lemon
a good handful of fresh parsley
salt and pepper
toasted gremolata breadcrumbs *optional but highly recommended
For the toasted gremolata breadcrumbs:
1 cup breadcrumbs
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp lemon zest
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 grated garlic clove
2 tbsp grated parmigiano
For the breadcrumbs, heat olive oil in a small pan and add the breadcrumbs. Stir this together and let it toast until the breadcrumbs take on some colour and it smells toasty. Take the pan off the heat and immediately stir in lemon, parsley, garlic, and parmigiano. This will smell incredibly fragrant as the residual heats lightly cooks the garlic and brings out the lemon flavour. You won't need this whole cup of crumbs for this, but trust me you'll be happy you have extra. Store them in the fridge, or even the freezer.
For the pasta, bring a large pot of water to a boil. When it does, salt it heavily. Add the pasta and set your timer for 2 minutes less than stated on the package.
In a frying pan, sauté onion in lots of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Don't go too salt heavy here because the sardines will have some too. This is the sauce, so don't be shy with the oil. If you are going to be shy, be prepared to add fresh olive oil later. When the onions are beginning to soften and take on some colour, add the chili and garlic. The whole thing should smell delicious, and your onions should be caramelizing (browning, becoming sweet). Add the fennel seeds and a few cranks of black pepper and cook that out. Again, should smell really great. If it's sticking, add some water. If you have some greens (spinach, kale, chard, dandelion would be delicious) kicking around, now is a good time to add them in. Once that is wilted, add your sardines. Some prefer to keep these in whole chunks, I like to smash them to bits all over. Your preference.
Check your pasta, it should be al dente but not crunchy or white on the inside when you take a bite. You may need to cook it a minute longer, but rarely does it actually take the time listed on the package. Add the pasta and maybe 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Stir it all together. This is where you may need to add some extra olive oil if it's looking too dry. A hit of fresh olive oil at the end here is really nice. Mix in the fresh parsley and grated lemon zest all over. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over each serving. Enjoy!