The sardine… a fish that divides people. I used to turn my nose up at the thought of sardines. I am not sure of whether it was their strong smell, their small (edible) bones or how some tinned varieties feel a little too slippery on the tongue for my liking. A believer in trying all foods on my ‘not liked’ list every now and again to see whether I could be persuaded to move them to my ‘liked’ list… I tried fresh sardines, grilled over a barbecue, flavored only with a simple marinade of lemon and parsley when I was in Brazil and I was hooked. What a revelation! These little beauties are packed full of flavour, healthy omega 3 oils, are a source of calcium as you can eat the tiny bones and best of all, they are cheap! Here in Byron Bay it is rare that they are available fresh, rather my fishmonger has butterflied frozen fillets for sale year round. Their high oil content means that they freeze well, so quality is not affected dramatically.
Before today, I hadn’t had sardines in a long time. In fact, my oily fish intake had taken a bit of a hit to be honest – not ideal when you are six months pregnant! Oily fish are such a great source of omega 3 fatty acids that are very important for foetal brain development. So realizing that my bub may be needing an omega 3 boost, I detoured to the fish monger on the way home from the farmers market and picked myself up 8 butterflied sardines for a whopping $5! Yes, $5. Combining these with a few other ingredients from the markets, some inspiration from here, 25 minutes of my lunch break and voila – a tasty, zingy and healthy pasta. This will definitely be making many reappearances on our dinner table in the future. For a balanced meal, simply serve with a green salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Oh yeah, and also, as it was just me eating at lunchtime today, this recipe is for a single serve but simply double, or triple the ingredients to make it for two or three.
Sardine, cherry tomato and lemon pasta
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
2 butterflied sardines, scaled
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 pinches hot chilli flakes
handful of rocket leaves, rinsed
handful of Italian parsley, roughly chopped
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp toasted breadcrumbs
1 tbsp olive oil
90 g spaghettini
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Wipe down sardines with a damp paper towel, making sure all scales are removed
2. Prepare remaining ingredients
3. Combine half of the lemon zest with breadcrumbs and set aside
4. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. When boiling rapidly add a pinch of salt. Cook spaghettini for 4 minutes, or until just before al dente (it will finish cooking in the pan). Drain, reserving at least 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside.
5. Meanwhile, heat a skillet or fry pan over medium heat, add olive oil and sliced garlic. Saute garlic gently, being careful not to burn it, until softened and aromatic.
6. Add chilli flakes and sauté for 1 minute, stirring frequently
7. Add cherry tomatoes and sauté for 1 minute, allowing the juices to moisten the pan
8. Add sardines, breaking them into large chunks with the wooden spoon
9. Add a tbsp or two of the pasta water to help the cooking process along and prevent sticking
10. When the pasta is cooked and the sardines are almost cooked through (this doesn’t take very long), add the cooked pasta, rocket, all but 1 tsp of the lemon juice, 1/2 cup pasta water and a handful of chopped parsley (receiving some for garnish)
11. Stir until pasta is coated with the sauce ingredients and the rocket is wilted. Sprinkle with the combined zest and breadcrumbs and stir to combine. If it looks a little dry at this stage, add a tbsp or two of extra pasta water. You want the sauce to be pretty wet at this stage as the breadcrumbs will soak up the sauce on standing.
12. Serve pasta and sauce into a bowl, garnish with remaining parsley, zest and drizzle over remaining lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste (I found it didn’t need much at all as it was already so flavour-packed). Again if it is looking dry already, a splash of extra pasta water is all that is needed to loosen it up.