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With another issue of the catalog just about wrapped up, my main goal was to relax this weekend. To that end, I spent a good portion of today reading, wandering around like a zombie, and napping. Waking refreshed and hungry (for tasty human braaains), I cast about my Bloglines folders looking for inspiration from the host of food bloggers I follow. Inspiration struck, as it so often does, at the feed of Molly of Orangette fame. Months ago, she wrote about a tomato sauce recipe, the simplest one in the world that also just happened to be swoonworthy. Since it required only four ingredients — canned tomatoes, butter, onion, and salt — I thought that would make for a perfectly quick and delicious lunch.

And then I realized I had other bits and pieces in my kitchen that would make good additions to the sauce. The basil in my fridge wasn’t getting any younger, so I thought a few leaves would lend a subtle flavor to the dish. Then I remembered the fennel in the crisper drawer sharing space with the Italian flat-leaf parsley, and brought those out to the counter, too.

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Just then I spied some anchovies and locatelli on the upper shelves and shrugged my shoulders. Well, why not? And of course, when you have fennel and anchovies, it’d be a crime not to add sardines and golden raisins to bring the whole thing to a fabulous pasta con le sarde conclusion.

So that’s just what I did. Of course I added a few other things here and there as well, but the focus was still on the tomato sauce; it might’ve been more involved than the one I set out to make, but it was terrifically satisfying (and kept me from throwing out the contents of my crisper drawer next week).

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recipe after the jump

Pasta con le Sarde

I don’t know if there’s a definitive version of this recipe out there, but the constants seem to be sardines and tomatoes. This is delicious — and properly finished — with toasted bread crumbs, but we’re breadless at the moment, so a quick grating of cheese put it over the top for us instead. (I know, I know, cheese and sardines — big no-no, but it works for me.) I’ve used sherry vinegar in the past (à la Jennifer of Last Night’s Dinner), but substituted lemon juice this time so as not to overplay the sweetness of the golden raisins. But I think it’d be really hard to make a bad version of this pasta, provided you love sardines as much as I do.

olive oil
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
3 fat cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3-4 anchovy filets
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in tomato puree
4-5 basil leaves
dry white wine
juice of 1 lemon
red pepper flakes to taste
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 tin sardines in olive oil
Italian flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
1/2 pound spaghetti or linguine

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add sliced fennel and cook, stirring, until fennel begins to soften. Add garlic slices and cook until fragrant and garlic begins to soften. Add anchovy filets to skillet and crush them into a paste with the back of a spoon, then stir into the fennel and garlic.

Add tomatoes, crushing with the back of the spoon until they’re broken up. Throw in the basil leaves, a glug of white wine and and the lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and golden raisins. Stir well, then add sardine filets to the pan and spoon a little sauce over them. Lower heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.

At this point, set a large pot of water over high heat. When water comes to a boil add salt (I used about 1 1/2 tablespoons) and stir in the pasta. Cook until al dente.

When pasta is ready, break up sardines with the spoon and stir them into the sauce. Add pasta to the sauce along with about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, stir, and simmer until pasta has cooked through.

To serve, top with toasted bread crumbs (or a big grating of hard cheese, if you’re so inclined), and garnish with fennel fronds or parsley.

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