Big Stuff

sardines, fennel, tomato

I don’t know what to say.

It’s well into February and I haven’t posted here in what feels like forever. We’ve been cooking up a storm, working on projects in the kitchen, eating some truly wonderful things, but I just haven’t had it in me to post.

There’s so much to tell you. But I can’t talk about it just yet.

Dinner: January 22, 2011

I do want to talk about this pasta, though. It seems like every time I talk about this dish, something big happens. I last posted about it here in 2007, to an enthusiastic response.

Almost a year later, with Mike in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail and me at home in Providence, I watched wide-eyed as my site meter shot skyward, topping out at 12,127 hits – twelve thousand, one hundred twenty seven hits – thanks to a post on a Yahoo! Shine blog which linked out to that old Linguine con Sarde post.

And now my recipe for this dish, this humble pantry supper I’ve been making for us for years, is the latest addition to the second food52 cookbook.

As in book one’s scallop competition, I was up against the incredibly talented cook melissav, and today, I learned that my Linguine with Sardines, Fennel and Tomato came out on top in the voting. Sardines with pasta! People are cooking this, and enjoying it, people are eating sardines, and that’s not just big, it’s huge. I couldn’t be happier, or more proud.

To all of you who voted, who commented, who are a constant source of support and inspiration, THANK YOU.

Wading back in

We got back to Providence on Sunday evening, but since I had made a point to use up most of our fresh food before our trip, and since we weren’t around for Saturday’s farmers’ market, we had to make a quick trip to Whole Foods for provisions. I’ve gotten so used to buying the majority of our food at the farmers’ market that I was a little frazzled when we got to the store, but the seafood counter saved the day. I grabbed some sardines for Sunday night’s dinner, and a beautiful whole trout for Monday.

Dinner:  May 10, 2009

We had hoped to grill the sardines on Sunday night but it was a bit too chilly out, so after Mike cleaned them, I dipped them in a little bit of seasoned flour and fried them. I made a quick stew of fennel and tomatoes, one of my favorite partners for fish of any kind, and our Sunday supper was complete.

fiddleheads and chanterelles

Monday’s trout dinner was equally simple: our butterflied trout went into a grill basket rubbed with salt and a bit of olive oil, and Mike took care of cooking it while I worked on sides.

Dinner:  May 11, 2009

I had spotted some Massachusetts fiddleheads at the store, which I snapped up along with a few gorgeous chanterelles. I sauteed them in butter with thinly sliced spring onion until the mushrooms were a bit caramelized and the fiddleheads were tender, then I spooned them onto our plates with the grilled trout and some boiled, smashed new potatoes. I finished the fish with a spritz of fresh lemon juice and some thin slices of the bright green onion tips, and simple as that, dinner was served.

Cooking to Combat Cancer

I know of very few people whose lives have not been affected in some way by cancer. Mike was just a little boy when he lost his father to pancreatic cancer. My aunt is a breast cancer survivor. Our friend Michele has undergone treatment for skin cancer, and just recently, our friend Jill lost someone very dear to her after a long battle with breast cancer that metastasized to her brain. It is for Jill’s friend Jen, and for everyone else in our lives who has been touched by this disease, that I am writing this today, to participate in the third installment of Cooking to Combat Cancer.

Cancer is a scary word, and I’m sure it’s easy to feel powerless when you or someone you love is faced with that diagnosis. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia nearly 10 years ago, and after struggling with various treatments, I took a good hard look at my diet, figuring it was one small thing I had control of. Cancer is, obviously, a very different beast than fibro, but consuming a diet made up of good, wholesome foods is a great way to help manage all sorts of health conditions.

Food is a powerful thing: it provides both fuel for our bodies and comfort for our souls. I’ve talked a lot about the latter here, but it’s easy to forget sometimes that so many foods contain compounds that fight cell damage, reduce inflammation, boost immunity, and are as beneficial to those battling disease as to those of us who are trying to stave it off, or who are managing chronic health conditions. The fact that they taste good is a bonus.

salad, pre-toss

I tend to like vivid color on my plate, so with that in mind, I chose red quinoa as the base for my cancer-fighting dish, a warm quinoa salad. Quinoa is a favorite pantry staple, a great canvas for other flavors, and a breeze to prepare – just rinse it well and cook it as you would rice. I tossed my cooked quinoa with a zippy dressing spiked with lots of minced garlic, lemon juice and zest, all bound with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. I added about a cup of thinly sliced spring onions to the mix, as well as several handfuls of young kale.

in praise of...

Inspired by Sara Kate’s recent post at The Kitchn, I opened a tin of olive oil-packed sardines, reserving the oil to fry them in. I gave the sardines an ultra-light coating of Wondra flour seasoned with sea salt and a little cayenne, then gently fried them until they were crisp on the outside and just warmed through.

Dinner:  April 28, 2009

I gave the warm quinoa salad another quick toss before serving it, placing the sardines on top and finishing the whole thing with another hit of lemon zest. The richness of the fish married really well with the nutty quinoa, brightly flavored dressing, sharp onions and tender young kale – this meal was as full of flavor as it was packed with healthy goodness.

(Big thanks to Mele Cotte for hosting, and to Blue Kitchen’s Terry B for referring me there.)

A simple affair

Dinner:  March 6, 2008

Yesterday was a doozy. I hope to be back in force next week, but for now, I’ll just tell you briefly what I put together last night. I spotted some whole Spanish mackerel at Wild Edibles a few days ago, and hoped they would still have some available so I could make this, but when I stopped off on my way home last night there was no mackerel left. They did have some gorgeous fresh wild sardines, though, so I grabbed a pound of those instead. I halved a pound of fingerlings lengthwise and tossed them with olive oil, kosher salt, a copious amount of fresh thyme and a tablespoon or so of smoked Spanish paprika, then roasted them on a sheet pan in a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes.

I pulled out the potatoes and placed a layer of sardines on top, seasoning them with salt and drizzling a bit of olive oil on top, then placed them back in the oven (now at 400) for another 20 minutes, gently turning the sardines midway through. When the potatoes and sardines were done, I pulled them out of the oven and plated them on a bed of baby arugula, drizzling a good amount of sherry vinegar over the top. I finished them with a sprinkling of coarsely chopped raw almonds for a bit of crunch, and as a nod to the grilled sardine with romesco I had at La Laiterie in Providence our last trip up (which is where we had that waffle with foie, for those of you who asked).

2005 Albert Boxler Chasselas

This was a relatively quick and very easy dinner, the flavors harmonizing beautifully, and the whole meal was elevated by Mike’s wine selection, this 2005 Albert Boxler Chasselas. The light, bright flavor cut through the richness of the sardines and paired really well with the other flavors in the dish.

Recipe Redux: Linguine con Sarde

Dinner:  October 2, 2007

“Snacking on sardines.”

It was an innocent little text message, sent out over Twitter by my husband, but it got me craving those savory little fish in the worst way. Though some of you probably can’t imagine sardines being a crave-worthy food, I’ve been completely smitten with them since my first taste (Prune restaurant, birthday dinner, sardines with Triscuits, mustard and cornichons – simply perfect). I knew we had a couple of tins in the pantry at home, and we had one bunch of baby fennel lingering in the crisper, so I scrapped my previous plan for dinner and put together one of my favorite fall-back pasta dishes – linguine with sardines, fennel and tomato, also known as “Linguine con Sarde.”

The last time I made this dish I was sort of going through the motions, so I did a few things differently this time. While my pasta water came to a boil, I sautéed garlic in olive oil, then added my sliced fennel bulb and a bit of salt and let it soften and begin to caramelize. I added a pinch of red chile flakes, one tin of sardines (minus the oil they were packed in), and a pint of tiny Super Sweet 100 tomatoes, gently stirring everything together. I added a hefty splash of white vermouth, the juice of one lemon, and a handful of chopped fennel fronds and let the sauce bubble away while I cooked a pound of linguine. When it was just short of al dente, I added about 3/4 of the pasta to the sauce along with a couple of small ladles of the starchy pasta water and gently tossed everything through. When the pasta had finished cooking in the sauce, I plated it, adding a sprinkling of toasted bread crumbs, a grating of lemon zest and a few more fennel fronds to each bowl.

While I think last night’s version of this dish could have used a touch more salt, Mike and I both agreed it was really good – the lemon was a great substitute for the sherry vinegar in my original dish, and the addition of the fennel fronds and zest at the end really brought all the flavors together. Think you don’t like sardines? This simple pasta dish just might make you change your mind.

Linguine con Sarde

Dinner:  May 17, 2007

It can be difficult to do things like cooking or even just eating when life hands you something ugly, but I try to use cooking as a coping mechanism – a distraction of sorts, a way to busy myself with the process of creating something good and restorative for myself and those around me. Feeding yourself and those you love is a basic, nurturing thing, and spending a bit of time in the kitchen, even when I feel like I’m just going through the motions, is something I rely on to get through rough patches.

I am grateful at times like these that we tend to sketch out menus for the week in advance, and that we have an abundance of pantry staples to pull out when we need something nourishing but fuss-free. As much as I love being inspired by what is fresh and shiny at the market, sometimes I just need to cook up one of those meals that I have done countless times and don’t have to think too much about.

We’ve always got sardines in the pantry for snacking or light lunches, but I also love using them with pasta. We generally get the King Oscar brand, which I believe are readily available in most stores, but we recently picked up a box of these imported Portuguese sardines at Russ and Daughters, so I decided to use them.

I got a big pot of water boiling for the pasta while I trimmed and sliced a fennel bulb and chopped half of a large ripe tomato (I used fresh because we had a leftover fresh tomato on hand; you could certainly substitute chopped canned tomatoes – about a cup worth). I placed about 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat, and then added three fat cloves of garlic (peeled and chopped). I added two anchovy filets to the garlic and oil and mashed them with the back of my spoon until they melted into the oil. The fennel went in next with a pinch of salt, and I cooked it for about 5 minutes. I added a splash of white vermouth next and let that bubble down, then added the tomatoes and a splash of sherry vinegar. I stirred this all together, lidded it up, and let it simmer over low heat while the pasta cooked.

I cooked about half a pound of linguine in boiling salted water until it was short of al dente – roughly 6-7 minutes. Shortly before the pasta was ready, and after the sauce had reduced a bit, I added my sardines to the sauce – one can, with their oil. I broke the sardines up just a little with my spoon, added the linguine to the sauce along with a little bit of the pasta water and tossed everything through. I placed the pasta into bowls and topped it with a little fresh parsley and toasted breadcrumbs. (I had intended to top the pasta with fennel fronds and lemon zest, but frankly, I forgot.)

Mike poured a couple of glasses of Nero d’Avola, and as we sat in the dim light of our living room with our plates in our laps, quietly eating our meal, I felt a bit of calm come over me. Despite everything that was going on, I was eating good food with someone I love very much beside me, and I knew that things would be all right. Besides, as any cook knows, you sometimes need a little something bitter to bring out the sweet.