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What’s more delicious (or pungent) than a sardine?

  • Los Angeles Times
  • Published Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at 12 a.m.

Photos

PASTA CHI SARDI A MARI

30 minutes. Makes 4 to 6 servings

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 (80-gram) can sardines in olive oil

1 pound spaghetti

Salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 whole clove garlic

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup chopped fennel fronds

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Cover the raisins with hot water and set aside to soften. Place the bread crumbs in a small skillet, add just enough of the oil from the sardines to moisten and toast over medium heat until bread crumbs are golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to small bowl to stop the cooking.

2. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of rapidly boiling, heavily salted water until it is al dente, about 12 minutes.

3. While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet large enough to hold all the spaghetti. Add the garlic clove, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally until the garlic has begun to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Discard the garlic.

4. Remove the sardines from the oil in which they’re packed, retaining the oil. Add the sardines to the skillet and cook, breaking the fish into bite-sized pieces with a spatula.

5. When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving one-half cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet, along with the reserved cooking water. Drain the raisins and add them. Add the fennel fronds and parsley, increase the heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until the water has evaporated. Taste and add some of the reserved sardine oil if a stronger flavor is desired.

6. Scatter the toasted bread crumbs over top and serve.

Nutrition facts (based on 6 servings): 400 calories, 14 grams protein, 64 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 10 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 19 mg cholesterol, 6 grams sugar, 94 mg sodium

NOTE: Loosely based on a recipe from the late actor Vincent Schiavelli

SARDINES WITH CHERMOULA

12 minutes. Serves 6 to 8

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

3 teaspoons chopped mint

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 (120-gram) can sardines in olive oil

Crackers

1. Combine the garlic, mint, parsley, red pepper flakes and salt in a mortar and pestle, and pound to a paste. Slowly add the olive oil, stirring constantly to make a creamy sauce. Stir in the red wine vinegar and adjust seasoning to taste. Alternatively, pulse the garlic, mint, parsley, pepper flakes, salt, olive oil and vinegar in a blender to make a chunky paste. This makes about one-third cup chermoula.

2. Drain the sardines and stir them with a fork to break into pieces. Spread approximately 1 teaspoon of sardines on a small cracker and top with approximately one-half teaspoon chermoula. Repeat until all sardines have been used. If you have sauce left over, it will store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Nutrition facts (based on 8 servings): 79 calories, 4 grams protein, 0 carbohydrates, 0 fiber, 7 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 21 mg cholesterol, 0 sugar, 297 mg sodium

In this age of fresh and local, canned foods are so far out of fashion that it sometimes seems as if they hide their heads when you walk past them in the grocery store. In some cases, this is valid: Who still buys canned peas or asparagus? But in others, it’s nothing but shortsighted snobbery on our part. What is more delicious than a really good canned sardine?

Well, certainly a fresh sardine is right up there, split and grilled over a hot fire. But canned sardines are not ersatz fresh sardines; they are a different product entirely, like cucumbers and pickles, or roast pork and prosciutto.

Canned sardines are worthy in their own right. They have earned their pungent dignity.

And pungent they can be. Rightly or wrongly, canned sardines have a reputation for masculine appeal. They’re the kinds of things hard-boiled detectives might eat, leaning over the sink, pulling on a strong craft beer, with Charlie Parker on the stereo.

They’re good with mustard and/or capers. Of course, a little sharp onion is never out of place. A little heat? Why not? A squirt of lemon or a few drops of red wine vinegar bring balance.

If you’ve got canned sardines in your pantry, dinner is never far away.

When his wife is out of town, Lou Amdur, owner of Lou Provisions & Wine in East Hollywood and former proprietor of the beloved Lou wine bar, makes what he calls his “bachelor special”: sardines spread on toasted crusty bread, moistened with a little of their oil and topped with pickled red onions.

Hungry yet?

But, of course, sardines are not just a hard-boiled guy thing. I remember renowned cookbook writer Paula Wolfert serving an appetizer of toasts topped with wedges of ripe avocado, sardines and thinly sliced onions. She said she’d learned it from Ferran Adria, an amazingly rustic offering from the wizard of modernist cooking.

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