Fresh sardines are a special kind of delight, firm and briny and with all their little silvery scales, but the tinned kind are still cheap and good and lightening fast to prepare, and, in my opinion, sadly neglected in favor of the decent but inferior canned tuna. Two to three dollars will get you enough, packed in olive oil, for two meals. Here are three things to do with the little suckers once you’ve got them.
1. Sardines and pasta.
I don’t know how to scale down meals or cook for fewer than five people (hello, seven small siblings!) so I make a huge batch and eat it till it’s gone. If you’re someone who understands portions et al, work your wizardry.
Chop up two red peppers, throw a little olive oil on them, and roast them in the oven. While they’re roasting, put your pasta water on to boil, then saute several cups of spinach with the sardines in their packing oil. You can add a little garlic here too, if you feel like it. Drain the pasta, take out the roast peppers, and toss them all with the spinach and sardines. Squeeze some lemon over the whole mess, and add salt, pepper, and more olive oil to taste.
2. Fake salade nicoise.
Defrost, rinse, and drain a pack or two of frozen green beans. Throw together with with half a can of black olives, a quartered tomato or two, a tin of sardines, separated into fillets. If you’re really swinging for the fences you can add more nicoise-ish things: a few anchovies, a hard boiled egg, sliced cucumber. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, some minced or powdered garlic and drizzle over. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Sardines on toast.
I have saved the best for last. This is one of the my favorite snacky dinners: cozy, crunchy, nourishing, and simple. Because I’m a reckless fool who burns money like kindling I like to buy good, thick, whole grain bread that will hold its own in flavor and texture; sardines on toast should be an indulgence.
Toast two pieces of bread, and while it is toasting, open up the sardine tin and pour out the oil into a pan. Sautee some spinach in this oil–I like the spinach layer thick, and it cooks down, so I’ll sautee half a bag or more. Put the spinach on the toast, separate the sardines into fillets, and warm them up in the pan for just a minute. Arrange the Sardines on the spinach, top with coarse salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, maybe another drizzle of olive oil if you’re so inclined. Pour yourself a glass of wine and munch.