In my quest to find items for my Perfect Pantry column, sometimes I just peer into our pantry to see what might be hanging out in there. I’ve noticed a few times that there are cans of sardines on hand. Our roommate is British and I’ve seen him eating them on toast for breakfast. I’ve always thought this looked delicious. I love sardines but until now, never really knew what to do with them. I became curious about using them in pasta sauces, and sure enough, there are lots of sardine and pasta combinations out there. This recipe is my variation on the Sicilian-style classic. I should also admit that the words “homemade breadcrumbs” really intimidated me. I’m not sure exactly why, it just seems so extravagant; homemade breadcrumbs. Really? They have to be homemade? I knew on some level, that my fear was unfounded, they’re probably not that hard to make. They literally take 2 seconds to make. Don’t be afraid of homemade breadcrumbs. They’re so much better this way too.
Spaghetti with Sardines, Fennel, and Breadcrumbs
- 2 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced (fronds and stalks discarded)
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 (3 3/4- to 4 3/8-ounce) cans boneless, skinless sardines in oil, drained and flaked
- 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
- 2 slices whole wheat bread (for breadcrumbs)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, drain. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant but not brown, about 1 minute. Pour garlic and oil into a large bowl and reserve. MAKE BREADCRUMBS: trim crusts from bread. Tear into pieces and process in a food processor until coarsely ground. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in pan over medium heat and add crumbs. Stir constantly until crispy and golden brown. Be very careful not to burn. Transfer to a plate. Add 2 more tablespoons oil to skillet and add fennel and seeds and cook over medium heat until tender, about 20 minutes. Add wine and half of sardines. Whisk lemon juice, salt and freshly cracked pepper into the bowl with garlic and oil. Toss together the pasta with the garlic oil and lemon mixture. Add the cooked fennel sardine sauce remaining sardines, and sprinkle with parsley and Parmesan cheese.