Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pasta with Sardines

Pasta with Sardines 4

This week is Pot Luck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, and this means that we get carte blanche to choose any recipe we like either from our current chef, who as I'm sure you know by now, happens to be the incredibly inspiring Yotam Ottolenghi, or any one of the seven other chefs we have previously featured at IHCC.

I actually had an Ottolenghi dish picked out weeks ago that I was going to make for this week's challenge, but somehow that didn't come to pass and I decided that today was the day to get this post out of draft.  This dish is ever so slightly adapted from a Mark Bitman recipe, and is one of my favourite pasta dishes.  Mark Bitman was actually the featured chef when I first joined the IHCC community, and I loved cooking his dishes.  This recipe was one that I made way back then, with all good intentions for publishing it as my "Farewell to Bitman" post.  Somehow, that didn't happen, and although I've made this dish several times since, the post has continued to languish in draft.  Time for that to change.

This is one of those great "pantry raid" dishes, perfect for using up a few of those store cupboard ingredients - pasta, raisins (original recipe uses currants, but I prefer raisins), pine nuts and tinned sardines.  On the subject of sardines, I actually prefer to use fresh, and I have included a video from YouTube here which shows just how easy they are to clean - I promise that it is totally worth the little bit of effort if you are able to get them fresh.  However, the original recipe calls for tinned sardines, and they will work perfectly well if you either can't lay your hands on fresh ones or can't be bothered to clean them.

Other changes I like to make to this dish, are replacing onion with fennel - I think the "aniseed" flavour is a great complement to the fish and the raisins, and I also like to add in some chopped preserved lemon for its intensely lemony-salty hit.

This dish is incredibly quick to make - once you've prepared the fish (which is itself the work of moments), the rest of the dish pretty much comes together in the amount of time it takes to boil pasta, making it perfect for a quick, mid-week dinner.

Add to this the fact that, from both an ethical point of view and a healthy one, sardines are a great choice, and you have a win:win dish.  Hope you'll try it.

Pasta with Sardines 5

Pasta with Sardines Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bitman from
Makes 2 generous servings
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

6x fresh sardines
1/4 cup flour
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

250g pasta ( I used De Cecco casareccia)

handful of raisins, soaked in warm water while you prepare the sardines
handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
olive oil
1x fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1/2 a preserved lemon (discard the flesh, and slice the skin thinly)
grated zest of 1x lemon
large handful fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
freshly ground black pepper

Put a large pot of water over high heat and bring to the boil.

Meanwhile, prepare the sardines as per the video above.  Wash thoroughly and use a paper towel to pat completely dry.

Pasta with Sardines 1

Spread flour, seasoned with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, on a plate.  Dredge the sardines in the flour, shaking off any excess, and set aside.

Pasta with Sardines 2

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a shallow frying pan over medium heat.  As soon as the oil is hot, add the sardines to the pan, and continue to cook until the fish is golden brown and almost cooked through.  Remove from pan to a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb any surplus oil.  Break into slightly bigger than bite-sized pieces.

Now liberally salt the boiling water, and add the pasta to the water.  Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat another tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add the sliced fennel and saute until the fennel has softened - about 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the drained raisins, most of the pine nuts, preserved lemon skin, sardines, and a generous grind of black pepper.  (Because the preserved lemon is salty, you may find that you don't need any additional salt.)  Stirring gently, combine everything well, and cook until everything is heated through and fish is cooked through.

Pasta with Sardines 3

Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the cooking water.  Add the pasta to the pan containing the fish, and add most of the chopped parsely.  Toss carefully to combine and add a little of the reserved pasta water if necessary.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking

Transfer to a warm serving bowl, and sprinkle over the remaining pine nuts and parsley, and the grated lemon zest.

Delicious served immediately or at room temperature. 

If you would like to get to know Mark Bitman a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...

or check out some of these great Mark Bitman cookbooks:

How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food   How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food   Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express: 404 inspired seasonal dishes you can make in 20 minutes or less

Available from Amazon, Book Depository UK, and Fishpond NZ

I'm also sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo, hosted by the very lovely Michelle at Ms. enPlace.

See Ya in The Gumbo Badge


  1. I've heard about this Sicilian pasta but I have never tried it. It looks good!

    1. Thanks, Foodycat. This dish definitely transports you - I could easily imagine myself sitting in a little Sicilian seaside cafe eating this - or anywhere in the Med really.

  2. This looks really interesting! We sometime have fresh sardines at the grocery fish counter. I'm going to remember this for the next time I see them.

    1. Definitely recommend this the next time you see those sardines, Kaye - would love to know what you think of it once you've tried it. This would also work with chunks of mackerel as well if fresh sardines aren't available.

  3. Hi Sue,
    This looks very delicious! You did a great job of cleaning the sardines! I'm with you when it comes to raisins! I prefer raisins too for cooking! I've already made Ottolenghi's pickled lemon recipe, but did not manage to use that for his other recipes! Been busy lately!
    Hope you have a great weekend!

    1. Thanks, Joyce. Would love to know what you thought of Ottolenghi's pickled lemons - I'm planning on making them this afternoon.

  4. Yum! This DOES look out of this world good! I love the idea of learning how to deal with fresh fish ... thanks for the video tutorial! Great Pot Luck offering!

    1. Thanks, Susan. There seem to be loads of videos out there, but this one seemed to be extremely clear and helpful. Was definitely a bit of a revelation to discover how easy it was, and once I got of the "ick" factor at the idea of doing this I actually found it a surprisingly pleasant task. One of those things that gives you a greater respect and appreciation for where you food really comes from.

  5. Wow...Sue! I've certainly never had a sardine, but I'd be brave enough to give this a go because it looks so pleasing to the palate. Plus, I'm a big fan of pasta dishes that are ready to go in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Those are such lifesavers when you need a quick meal.

    1. Oh Kim, do give it a try - it is definitely a palate pleaser. To be honest if you've never had a sardine, I would definitely go fresh if you can. The tinned ones are lovely, but they are quite intensely "fishy" in both flavour and smell, which is not to everyone's taste. Fresh ones are much milder in flavour. Alternatively, if you can't get your hands on sardines, nice chunks of fresh mackerel or other oily fish would be great. Yep, those quick, "almost one-pot-wonders" are always winners with me - my favourite kind of meal :-)

  6. All the varying textures in this pasta are exciting. I'm finding that so many of YO's dishes are all about contrasting textures and flavors. This pasta seems to have it all. Beautiful dish, Sue. And it could easily be done on a busy week night.

    1. Thanks, Michelle - definitely great texture and flavours in this dish.

    2. Thank you for linking. I've been thinking about those beautiful pine nuts.

  7. Absolutely STUNNING pasta, sounds amazing :)

    Happy Blogging!
    Happy Valley Chow

  8. Gosh, this is so delicious and packed with flavours! Definitely a keeper.

  9. I like a protein packed dish like this. Staves off hunger, satisfies without bloating! Looks great, Sue.

  10. I love sardines, but have only eaten them with crackers. I must expand my use of sardines!

  11. This is a lovely dish! I like that you added the fennel and I wish I could find good fresh sardines here! ;-) Bittman remains one of my very favorites for how simple, good and easily adaptable his recipes are.

  12. Yes please! What wonderful flavours, just heavenly :)

  13. What a beautiful dish, Sue! I'm a recent convert to sardines and now look to add them wherever possible. Love that you added some fennel in, too.


Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. I love hearing from you and your comments are like gold to me. Your comment will be visible as soon as it has been approved.