Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pasta con Sarde

One swallow does not a summer make. But one sardine does a winter make? For this humble but mighty fish, an unexpected cold-weather benefit confirms it surely does!
Named after the Italian island Sardinina, sardines are definitely the herring family’s hippest and healthiest member. Famed restaurateur Gabriel Stulman’s newest West Village hotspot, Chez Sardine, literally translates to “House of Sardine.”  And while ordering the minute ocean-dweller off a menu will most likely feature the fish in it’s entirety, eyes, skin and all; canned sardines (available skinless and boneless) provide an excellent alternative for easy and painless home cooking.
For such a little fish, the sardine’s health benefits are disproportionately tremendous to its size. Omega-3 fatty acids support cardiovascular health by lowering triglycerides and cholesterol levels, play a significant role in cancer prevention and bone and joint strength, and even promote ocular health. Worried about Mercury and PCBs? Not a problem in this bottom-of-the-food-chain fish. No wonder fish oil softgels are all the vitamin and supplement rage right now.
But in the dead of winter, when cold dry air manifests its nasty self in full force through thirsty skin and chapped lips, sardines offer an additional perk to these already lucrative health benefits: dry skin relief, packing a serious moisture punch from the inside out.  Chockfull of essential fatty acids that calm inflammation and keep skin conditioned, sardines can help alleviate your winter epidermal woes— straight from the kitchen. Your own home, a chez sardine!
A frequent ingredient in Mediterranean and Italian cooking, sardines offer a briny, salty burst of flavor that enriches many a dish, especially pastas. In this classic Sicilian Pasta con Sarde, the fishy protein elevates a simple “pantry” spaghetti to a whole new level of sophistication, flavor and nutrition.
Sautéed in an ambrosial stew of tomato, fennel, garlic and raisins, the sardine chunks are disseminated throughout the sauce, toning down the fish’s concentrated intensity.  The dish is finished with a generous smattering of toasted breadcrumbs, pine nuts and fennel fronds to deliver a delightful crunch and texture twist against the slippery noodles.

Merci, chez sardine. Sincerely, your skin and taste buds.  

Pasta Con Sarde (derived from Zakary Pelaccio and Food52)
Serves 3-4

-1 tin sardines (can use skinless & boneless) packed in olive oil (about 4 ¼ oz.)
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, plus fronds
-½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
-1 cup crushed or diced canned tomatoes, with juice
-⅓ cup raisins
-¼ cup flat-leaf parsley
-3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
-¼ cup vermouth or cooking wine
-Juice of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon zest
-⅓ cup toasted whole-wheat breadcrumbs
-¾ pounds dry whole-wheat linguine or spaghetti
-Salt & Pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Open the sardine tin and drain a tablespoon of the oil into a large skillet, over medium heat.  Add fennel (not fronds) and cook until fennel softens and begins to caramelize. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes in their juice and the raisins. Cook uncovered, so the liquid reduces, and then pour in vermouth or cooking wine, simmering for 5 more minutes.
  4. Add the sardines to the skillet, breaking up slightly with a spatula. Meanwhile, pulse together toasted breadcrumbs and parsley in a blender or food processor, and then add 1 tablespoon of lemon zest to the breadcrumb mixture. Set aside.
  5. Add lemon juice to the tomato mixture, and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions. When pasta is al dente, drain and transfer to the skillet, cooking for 3 more minutes. Add a tablespoon of pasta water if sauce looks in need of liquid.  
  7. Serve pasta immediately, sprinkled generously with breadcrumb mixture, pine nuts, and fennel fronds. 
"6 Health Benefits of Sardines." 6 Health Benefits of Sardines. HealthDiaries, 14 July 2011. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
Weitz, Gene. "The Best Foods for Dry Skin Relief." Smart Health & Beauty. N.p., 19 July 2011. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

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