I’m the kind of person who, at the end of a long day, can think of nothing so wonderful as spending 3 or 4 hours cooking dinner. Yes, I have a cocktail to go along with that. But it’s the cooking that winds me down, relaxes me and brings me to where I want to be.
But something happens in June, as the days get longer. I’ll be happily working away in my office, at the computer, and will look up at the clock. “OMG, it’s 7:30! I have to make dinner AGAIN? Didn’t I just do that last night??!” I really don’t know what happens, but my cooking instinct just flies out the window in June. It probably goes to the beach. But I’m not, so what’s a girl to do? The stores are closed at this point, so I have to make do with what’s in the pantry.
Last night the pantry looked pretty bare. Sophie had very kindly done the grocery shopping but I hadn’t given her a detailed list. I said get something for dinner, but I guess she interpreted that as meaning four packs of feta.
Anyway, she did get some zucchini, buy only four. Not quite enough for a side dish. And a head of lettuce.
I kept poking around the pantry and found 3 cans of sardines I had bought in an effort to get more omega 3’s into our diet. Back to the internet where I found a recipe on Epiciurious for pasta with sardines. Sounded just ok, not great, but got rave reviews. So....I decided to tweak it a bit, using the four zucchinis and fresh lemons from the terrace. The result was, even I have to admit, one of the all time best pastas I have ever made. Really. Truly. Trust me.
As always, the secret is in the ingredients. My sardines came from the Calabrian store down the street. (Zingerman’s sells some great ones from Portugal) Fresh lemons from my terrace (yes, that's the photo above). Fresh breadcrumbs from home made bread I had made last week. Our own olive oil. And so on.
And the zucchini were my favorite Romanesco variety, which are just coming into season. They are light green and heavily ridged. These are much firmer than other varieties, and have a much more intense taste (less watery). If you happen to have a garden, you can get seeds at Johnny’s.
So, do your best to source great ingredients here. But, the one thing that makes the dish extraordinary is fresh breadcrumbs. Do not use store bought!
Pasta with Sardines , Zucchini and Lemon
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound pasta (I used farfalle/bowties)
3 cans sardines
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup capers
4 small zucchini (or two medium) , coarsely grated
3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
dill (fresh if you can get it, but I used some dried I had gotten in Greece)
1 large fresh organic lemon
fennel pollen (very hard to find ingredient, I know, but made a huge difference. If you can’t find it, substitute a bit of fennel seed, ground)
Heat olive oil in big skillet, where eventually all the pasta will fit.
Drain and dry the capers. Add to hot oil and fry until they blossom out and just start to darken, about 2 - 3 minutes. Take out with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Add the fresh bread crumbs to the oil. They will soak all the oil up right away, then just keep stirring until they brown and crisp up. Put in a bowl and add the capers and some salt and pepper. Add the grated peel of the lemon.
Open up all three cans of sardines. Drain the oil from one of the cans into the skillet you just used. Gently heat and add the grated zucchini. These will soften pretty fast, in about 3 minutes. Once they have softened and wilted down, add the garlic, pressed through a garlic press, the red pepper, fennel,dill and salt. Stir. Then add the three cans of sardines, with or without the oil depending on how dietetic you are feeling.
Stir it up, breaking the sardines into largish chunks, until it is heated through.
In the meantime, boil salted water and cook pasta. Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.
Add pasta to the sardine mixture, stirring and adding a bit of the reserved water to loosen it up. Add the breadcrumb mixture and toss well, and serve.