I really have always liked sardines. Mashed sardines with a little mayo was a common lunch in my childhood. My dad still loves 'em, open faced on toasted rye with a little red onion on top.
Canned sardines are one thing, but have you ever had an un-canned sardine, soaked to remove the salt and dressed with olive oil? It is a thing of beauty and a taste of heaven.
Little fish like sardines and herring are packed with good stuff, yet Americans don't eat them much. They are rich in omega 3 fatty acids and have high levels of Coenzyme Q10, another antioxidant believed to promote a strong immune system. The fact that we eat sardines bones and all, makes them high in calcium and vitamin D.
Now along comes Alton Brown, touting sardines as the cornerstone of his recent 50 pound weight loss. Evidently Alton is so stuck on sardines that he travels everywhere toting cans of the little guys. You can watch the diet episode here and come to your own conclusions.
So I decided to make me a sardine and avocado sandwich, Alton style. Twice. The results were somewhat above "meh," though I definitely preferred the sardines packed in oil to water-packed sardines, and toasting the bread (good bread) made things infinitely better. You have to buy into the oily, unctuousness of sardines if you're going to let them be the stars of your sandwich. And you really must add some lemon juice for brightness and to cut the oily flavor, which avocados will only intensify.
If you really want an amazing canned sardine experience, make yourself some Pasta con Le Sarde. Alton Brown may not approve, for this is surely NOT a diet dish, but it will be an absolutely beguiling meal that evokes the best marriage of Sicilian Italian cooking with its strong Arabian influences. Pasta Con le Sarde is traditional for the Lenten Feast of St. Joseph (March 19), served along with a side of fava beans. I first tasted it nearly 30 years ago when my art director partner Joe Amato's mother made it for him on the feast day of his namesake.
Pasta con le Sarde - From The Wednesday Chef
½ cup currants
¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup unseasoned dry bread crumbs
½ cup plus 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 pound fennel, bulb finely chopped, fronds chopped and reserved
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 pound canned sardines
1 pound bucatini pasta
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup capers, rinsed
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Combine the currants, red-pepper flakes and wine in a bowl; set aside. In a small sauté pan, melt the butter. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl, stir in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and set aside.
2. In a heavy skillet, heat ½ cup olive oil over medium-low heat. When hot, add the onion, garlic, fennel bulb and fennel seeds. Season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is tender, about 25 minutes.
3. Add the wine mixture and the sardines, breaking them into pieces with a fork. Bring to a boil and gently simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Add enough salt to the boiling water so that it tastes salty. Boil the bucatini until al dente, 6 to 8 minutes; strain. Return the pasta to the pasta pot and set over low heat. Fold in the fennel-sardine mixture. Toss in the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add 3/4 of the fennel fronds, the pine nuts, the capers and a quarter of the bread crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Divide pasta among plates and sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs and fennel fronds over each. Serve immediately.
Heat oil in large pot, and saute in it the garlic and pepper flakes. Add the fennel, tomatoes, paste, and basil. Cover and let simmer 30 minutes 'til fennel is tender. Add the sardines and simmer a few more minutes. Toss with 1 lb. of hot pasta.
The breadcrumbs represent sawdust, because Joseph was a carpenter. How cool is that?!