Sardines:  I have many fond memories of these little fish.  The strong, yet familiar flavor is one that I often enjoyed growing up and, even as an adult, I still get a kick out of opening the flat can with the special key and eating sardines atop crackers or toast.  I like to think these tasty snacks from my early life have set the tone for my constant search for new flavors.

So recently, when I came across the recipe below, I was intrigued, as I had never actually tried cooking a meal with sardines.  Linguini with Sardines, Fennel and Tomato – the combination of ingredients was too much to resist, not to mention I love the blog Food52 and I have never been disappointed with a recipe found on the site. And, considering the recipe won first place in their seafood pasta contest, I knew I had to prepare this dish for dinner.

It proved to be one of those meals that is so easy to pull together on a weeknight.  Many of the ingredients are probably already in your kitchen, and the recipe delivers such a sophisticated, light yet clean flavor you will surely feel as though you have been transported to a Mediterranean island. (Ok, maybe that is taking it a bit too far – but it is really good!)   As an added bonus, I love the fact that you actually use the fennel fronds.

Linguini with Sardines Fennel and Tomato
NOTE: The only alterations I made from the original Food52 recipe were to swap in whole wheat linguine and breadcrumbs, and I added one extra garlic clove.  I’ve also tinkered a bit with the recipe instructions and served this over fresh greens.

Kosher or sea salt
1 small or ½ large fennel bulb, fronds reserved
1 medium lemon, juice and zest
⅓ cup toasted whole wheat breadcrumbs
1 (4 ½-ounce) tin sardines packed in olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 fat garlic cloves, peeled, smashed, and roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes, or more to taste
1 cup canned, peeled tomatoes with their juice, gently crushed
2 ounces white (dry) vermouth
¾ pounds dry whole wheat linguine

Bring a very large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.

Trim the fennel and slice the bulb very thinly (a mandoline works great here). Set aside.  Combine a tablespoon or so of the lemon zest with the toasted breadcrumbs, and set aside. Juice the lemon and set aside.

Open the sardine tin and drain a tablespoon or so of the oil into a wide skillet (the amount of oil in the tin will vary by brand, so add additional extra virgin olive oil if necessary to make up one tablespoon total). Warm the oil over medium-low heat, add the garlic, and sauté until fragrant.

Add the linguine to the boiling salted water.

While the pasta cooks, add the fennel to the skillet along with a sprinkle of salt, raise the heat to medium, and cook until the fennel is soft and beginning to caramelize. Add the chile flakes and let them sizzle for a minute, just until fragrant. Add the tomatoes with their juice and cook until the liquid is reduced by about a quarter. Add the vermouth and let that reduce slightly.

Add the sardines to the tomato and fennel mixture in the skillet, breaking them up slightly but leaving some chunks.  Add the lemon juice to the skillet. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.

When the linguine is just short of al dente, use tongs to transfer it to the sauce (don’t drain) along with some of the starchy pasta water. Toss gently to combine. (You want the mixture to be a little wet, so the breadcrumbs will soak up some sauce.)

Transfer the pasta and sauce to a large warmed serving bowl (or individual pasta bowls), add a drizzle of the olive oil, and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumb-lemon zest mixture/ Garnish with small fennel fronds and the remaining lemon zest.  –Enjoy





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