Category Archives: sardine

Pasta con le Sarde

Lo Jacono: Palermo; Fonds Ancely: Arrivée des marchandes de sardines; Old Map – Wikimedia.

This post will conclude my bolero with sardines. By now you are probably no longer surprised with my most strange obsession (especially considering how many people hate this fish), thinking: ‘’The woman went nuts and is probably now walking the fish market daily whispering to sardines…’’ or that I might soon become like this guy
The truth is simple though. We recently visited new Sicilian restaurant Scarpetta (at 4525 avenue du Parc in Plateau, Montreal) and I was very much impressed with their food and service, especially with chef’s (Monick Gilles) Pasta con Sarde alla Palermitana.  It was really different, exotic and tasted nothing like any pasta I ever tried before.  Inspired, I googled for the classic recipe of the dish and soon found myself in the kitchen gutting a pile of fresh sardines again (see the tips in sardine: part I). 

And, since I promised you to post this recipe during my last sardine adventure, here you are. This is an authentic Sicilian dish created during (over 200-years) invasion by Saracens (Moors). It combines typically Sicilian ingredients including: pasta, sardines, pine nuts, wild fennel and saffron in an extremely tasty and different twist.

In the island of Sicily they add some briny cured fish roe (from tuna, swordfish or grey mullet) called bottarga to spice up the dish, which in our case, is substituted with anchovies. Upgrade your pasta to whole wheat if you want or, for gluten-free version, feel free to use gluten-free pasta, crumbs and fish dusting. The result will still be uber-delicious, since the devil is in the sardine-fennel sauce.
I wholeheartedly recommend this dish to any curious, open-minded and adventurous cooking enthusiast (and/or sardines’ lover).

Lois- Auguste Veillon: Les pêcheurs de la région de Naples – Wikimedia

Buono Appetito!
PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with Sardines)
Yields: 6-8 servings.
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
4-6 tbsp olive oil
6 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
1 lb (500 g) fresh sardine fillets
2 tbsp plain flour or semolina, for dusting fish
½ cup sultanas (small raisins)
½ cup pine nuts
Pinch of saffron
50 ml dry white wine
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ tbsp. tomato puree
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
1 lb pasta, such as bucatini, maccheroncini or spagetti
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Few springs of fennel greens (or parsley) for garnish
Soak saffron in white wine.

In a large frying pan heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil, add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring until golden, for about 5 minutes. Remove the crumbs and toss with Parmesan. Set aside.
Bring a big pot of water (8 cups) to boil and boil sliced fennel for about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve the boiling liquid.
Dust half of the fish with semolina or flour (I used cornmeal). Heat the skillet with 1tbsp. olive oil and fry sardines turning once until browned. Set aside for garnish.

Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet and sauté anchovies and onions over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until anchovies start to turn into paste and the onions become translucent. Add fennel and sauté for 5 minutes. Add pine nuts, raisins, salt and pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
In a separate skillet, heat the remaining olive oil to medium high and add the rest of the sardines. Crush them in chunks with spatula as they cook. After 2 minutes, add saffron with wine, garlic and parsley. Mix well, stir for another 2 minutes and add salt and pepper. Set aside.
Boil pasta until aldente using fennel water (add extra water for boiling as per instructions of the package). Drain. Put in the bowl and dress with half the sardine sauce.
Put a layer of dressed pasta in an ovenproof casserole. Top with a layer of sardine sauce, layer of fennel sauce and then another layer of pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan breadcrumbs. Cover and bake for 15 minutes at 350F. Serve hot or cold garnished with extra fried sardines, fennel springs or chopped parsley.

Adapted from: Sicily Food and Cookery, Phaidon, 2013

Say Sardine: Part II

This is one of my all-time dinner favorites: Canned Sardines Pasta Bolognese.  Easy, inexpensive, utterly delicious + HEALTHY (quick reminder: not only sardines are a super-food, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, iron and B vitamins; because they are short-lived, they don’t accumulate pollutants in their bodies). A little tribute to the humble canned sardines which seem to be making their come back in the last few years. 

Yesterday we had one of those nights when everyone was just zombie-dead exhausted:  time when it’s good to make a nourishing familiar dish you’re so used to cook you can almost make it blindfolded. I have a short list of such dishes and this one is one of them.  I’ve been doing it for so long I don’t even have to switch on my brain: my hands kick into gear for me! 
The origin of the dish table travels me straight to Tuscany. It was one of those summers, which almost never happens in a normal human’s life. When all we had to do (with my best friend) was wandering around the hottest Italian destinations, trying exotic food and practicing the basics of Italian. Almost like Eat, Pray, Love, except we were students in our early twenties and money or responsibility was not an issue (or so we thought) and we did not pray much.  We settled in the picturesque town of Livorno in one of those cute houses on Piazza Grande next to Duomo. 
One day we decided to cook a rabbit with olives and white wine, but forgot to lower the oven temperature and left for a day to visit the Capri Island (what were we thinking?) …  When we returned six hours later, there were a lot of pompieres (firefighters) around the house. One carabiniere(policeman) was carrying out with an outstretched hand our charred skillet with almost crystallized pitch black rabbit emanating a lot of smoke. We wondered whether to laugh or cry… Fortunately, there was no other damage (otherwise I would probably be now writing this in Italian), except lots of smoke in the house.  
Photo Credit: Irene Sirenko
We stayed up late moving our stuff to the other part of the house which was not touched by the smoke. Everything was already closed and our stomachs were growling.  The lady of the house had a pity on us and made us this quick canned sardine pasta Bolognese which she served with some cheap red wine. Our ‘’soiree’’ kicked off at 11p.m. and this was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in life. I couldn’t believe that one can actually turn a can of plain sardines into this blissful fishy extravaganza! Naturally, I took notes of the recipe and have been making the dish for many years, although I haven’t seen it in any books of Italian recipes so far.
This is exactly a 15 minutes prep dish, which you can upgrade using whole wheat pasta and number of additions like: lemon zest, capers, olives, toasted crumbs, etc. I noticed even non-pescetarians quite often love this dish.

But what if you are a proud Sicilian or just a bit finicky to eat this quick adaptation and would still prefer the real pasta con le sarde?  Then you will have to read my next post. Cheers!

1 pound spaghetti (or your choice of pasta)
2 cans of sardines in olive oil, drained and mashed with fork
¼ cup olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
6 anchovies, rinsed and minced
½ cup tomato coulis (or tomato sauce)
1-2 teaspoons chili pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Zest & juice of ½ lemon (optional)
1 tbsp capers (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Meanwhile, heat the skillet with olive oil, add chili flakes and garlic and cook on medium high for 1-2 minutes. Add minced anchovies and give them a stir mashing them with spatula for 1 minute. Add parsley and mashed sardines. Once the mix sizzles, add tomato coulis (or sauce) and sauté for another few minutes. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and capers and mix well. Reserve some sardine sauce to garnish. When pasta is done, drain and add to the skillet with the sardine mixture. Toss well and serve immediately garnished with extra sauce and parmesan or pecorino and toasted bread on a side. Enjoy!

Say Sardine: Part I

It’s fun to catch the last glimpse of summer having a little Grilled Sardines alfresco party. Succulent, fatty and so-Mediterranean, freshly grilled sardines taste totally different from canned and are sometimes called ‘’brain food’’ for their high nutritional value. Sardines are packed with Omega 3, B-vitamins, selenium, niacin, calcium and many other good things, and, are unbelievably tasty.

Which is why, their lusty grilled aroma remains as alluring as ever all along the beaches of, practically, any Mediterranean country (and, of course, Portugal). Who can ever forget the traditional Malaga’s chiringuito experience with sardines skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over the drift wood in an old fishing boat berthed in the sand? Or Lisbon’s favourite open-air salt-packed sardinhas grelhadas served with a simple potato, tomato and grilled capsicum salad?
Curiously, my first grilled sardines know-how hails from one disastrous dim-sum dining experience. The story is actually worth telling. Imagine a cold winter Sunday morning. You read an article from a major press (La Presse), which goes: ‘’… you can have tons of delicious treats and a mountain of crisp-fried sardines at this place for just a few dollars … will make you come back to this newly opened dim-sum restaurant again and again…’’ Yumm, sounds so attractive! Sure enough, I go to check out the place. When I arrive the place is packed, so I park myself between the doors with many others. Next thing I notice, I am squeezed between people who all have well-spread herpes labialis (cold sore) on their face. I feel threatened. My first instinct tells me to ‘’FLEE’’, but my perseverance wins so I just cover my face with the scarf and try not to breeze. I think about the reward I am about to get – sardines… My turn comes up and I am rushing into a crowded dining hall to be placed among other sardine lovers. A grim-faced female server stops by my table, says something in Chinese and hands me down few baskets from her cart. I ask her if I can have some sardines. The woman gives me the stink eye and leaves without an answer. I take a bite of the gluey samples in hope that sardines are coming with the next cart. The slippery-cold bock choy and dumplings which taste like a cross between radish burp and slime bring me back to the thought that, perhaps, leaving the place at once was not such a bad idea. But I am on the mission to get sardines… Another elderly server comes by and slides down something fried that looks like pig-ear crisp, although can be a sliced cardboard soaked overnight and deep-fried this morning. I begin to speak louder and gesticulate to make it clear that I want sardines and I don’t see them among the dishes served. She answers something in Chinese (again) and drifts away with her cart leaving me no options but to go look for a manager. I find him in the steamy kitchen which smells like rotten cabbage and can convert to a ‘’Day of the Sorcerer’’ movie set in a snap.  He confirms to me that they run out of sardines (what?!).  More than ‘’a few dollars’’ short, I leave the place praying not to develop a sore on my lip…  But I am now even more determined to get bloody sardines. I have two options: I can go high-end (Fereira Café, or similar) and be treated for sure, OR, I can go to La Mer (the fish market) and buy some fresh sardines and cook them myself. And since my belly is bloated with crap which La Presse journalist called ‘’delicious treats’’, and my daily resto budget is gone, I do the latter.  Voilà, with a bit of patience, garlic, lemon, olive oil and salt I finally succeed to have a mountain of freshly-roasted sardines for a few dollars indeed. I celebrate this with Rhapsody in Blueand a glass of chilled Rosé…
My point is, as long as you can buy two pounds of frozen sardines at $2.99 (at marche Adonis, for example), you don’t have to go through my try-&-fail dining experience and can successfully feed a small army on a budget with some of the following fool-proof tips. 
Frozen sardines are much easier to clean than fresh: use your fingers to shave the scale in a bowl of water (I find using the back of the knife still breaks the tender flesh); slit the underbelly and pull the guts out while the fish is still half-frozen. Leave the head and tail on or cut them off if you prefer. For fresh sardines and more elaborate technique of making sardine butterflied (en papillote), follow these tips. I personally don’t like to fiddle with that, especially when sardines are to be grilled: the bones play the major role in developing umami during the cooking process. Here are some of my favorite ways to cook and serve grilled sardines:
International: marinated in lemon/garlic/parsley/olive oil/salt/pepper sauce for 15-30 minutes, grilled on medium-high for 3 minutes on each side. Excellent with carrot-leeks side dish.
Portuguese: simple and fast – encrust sardines with layers of kosher salt; keep in the fridge for an hour or so, then just wash the salt off, pat dry and throw them on a grill (again, 3 minutes each side). PS: sardines cooked this way are often not gutted (it is best though to apply this technique with fresh sardines). Serve with lemon wedges and simple salad of your choice.
Spanish: in escabeche sauce (mix of olive oil, a bit of red/white vinegar, garlic and herbs simmered for 10 minutes) splashed over the grilled sardines and served cool – utterly delicious and well worth trying.
Greek: wrapped in wine leaves. This is one of my preferred techniques – vine leaf wrap prevents the fat from burning, helps to manipulate the grill easily and keeps the sardine flesh moist. Works well on the frying pan too. 
Good tip: use wilted lettuce or wild grape leaves (popular weed in our backyards, see the image below), if you don’t have real vine leaves handy. (FYI, you can also make an awesome sauce for the grilled meat from wild grapes.) Just collect the biggest wild vine leaves, rinse and simmer them in salted water (2 tablespoons/1 liter) for 5-7 minutes. Drain and let cool before wrapping.
PS: Please do not confuse the wild grapes though with Menispermum Canadense plant which is poisonous. 

 Simple, healthy and unforgettable!
2 lbs (1 kg) or 12-16 medium to large size sardines
12-16 vine leaves in brine, washed
1 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced (optional)
1/3 teaspoon fresh or dry thyme, minced (optional)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Scale sardines with your fingers under the running water, gut them and wash. Pat dry and rub the fish with a mix of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs, OR just sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Wrap sardines individually with vine leaves rinsed from the brine. Preheat the grill to medium-high. Grill for 3-5 minutes on each side or until flesh flakes well when tested. Serve with lemon wedges, crusty bread, chilled white or rosé and lotsa napkins. OR, serve grilled sardines as meze with a shot of ouzo. Enjoy your alfresco!