“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.