23 Jan

Little fish, big controversy.

Pugs On Patrol

Some recent night after work I was watching the Iron Chef battle between Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver, Isaac was reading. “Oooooh!” I said. “Look, Pasta con le Sarda!” “Huh?” “Mario’s making pasta with sardines. I’ve always wanted to make that. I think it’s totally weird that it’s got fish, raisins and fennel in it.” “Pasta? With sardines? I’m sold.”

It seemed like the perfect dish. I love pasta but I’m not so keen on fish. Isaac’s the exact opposite. It seemed like a match made in heaven. And then we started discussing the dish.

This is where the pugs live.  Lucky pugs.

I wanted to change some things around. I didn’t want to use sardines. Where on earth would I get sardines? In Bay Ridge? On a Sunday? Tell me that… So, what do you want to use? Tuna. Tuna? Ewh. Why would you use tuna? Because I like tuna and I don’t really like sardines. Well why on earth would you suggest making something with sardines then? Etc. Etc. Etc.

The discussion never got heated, just testy, but just testy enough to make it seem like a good idea to shelve the dish for a while. So we made spinach pie. Spinach pie. The peacemaker. Who knew?

Cold, Winter Tree

Then, on Saturday, piscine providence provided.

I had already settled on roasting a chicken and making some Asian-esque soup with dumplings from the leftovers as the weekend’s culinary activities, but Isaac came back from the gym with amazing news. Cosentino’s, the local fish market, had fresh sardines.

They were beautiful, shiny, plump, glistening and as fresh as fresh fish can be. They smelled of the ocean and were soft and silky to the touch. Their eyes were so bright and shiny, like they were still chasing tiny krill through the icy waters of the Atlantic. But I couldn’t. Nope.

Tree Lined

I don’t know when it happened or how, but I don’t like fish. Okay, that’s only about 87% honest. I don’t like most fish. I love cod, but feel guilty eating it. And don’t even put a bowl of clams in front of me, because they’ll be gone by the time you turn back around. Tuna’s alright, especially when smeared in mayonnaise and hot sauce and wrapped inside seaweed and gulped down with pickled ginger. I also don’t mind fish on vacation, like in Croatia, where it was all even fresher than the sardines I was staring down. But at home? Not so much.

So I stood there, waffling. I knew how much Isaac wanted them. I knew that they were local, and seasonal. But I failed. I settled on a hunk of tuna and some clams. I could feel the disappointment emanating in waves off both Isaac and the fish guy. The fish guy said he only brought in the sardines when they were exceptional, and that he knew no one would buy them. It felt awful proving him right.


I was wracked with guilt on the walk home, hugging my tuna airlifted in from warmer climes. I had just failed miserably as a foodie. I had left the delicious delicacy from the sea back in that store on a bed of ice. And so, I relented. I asked Isaac to go back and get the little fishes, but to make sure the guy gutted them. I hate gutting fish.

The sauce is, as the Naked Chef would say, easy peasy. You cut some vege, cook the vege, add tomatoes and stew. The cleaning of the fish though? Far more than I expected. I figured the fish guy would not only gut them but remove their spines too. Oh no. Nope. He left that for me.


The first one was difficult, but by the end I had the hang of it. You just insert the tip of a knife under the spine near the tail and drag backwards, pulling out the tail. Then you lift the spine and pull towards the head. Where the spine breaks, you cut off that part of the fish. The ribs will be too big and thick to melt in the cooking process. But this is not a neat procedure. Little bits of fish fly everywhere. You have been warned.

The sauce turned out well, very well in fact, but for me the star of the meal was the pasta. I took a cue from Mario and rather than adding saffron to the sauce, I added it to the noodles. I made pappardelle because I love them, and these noodles might be the ones I *heart* the most in all the world. They are spectacular.

Pasat con le Sarda

The first bite of the meal was, to me, a little too fishy, but by the end I was very happy. It’s kind of a cross between puttanesca and Huachinango Veracruzano, but with more depth and mystery. I’m not sure I’ll ever make it again, even though the leftovers were excellent on some Trader Joe’s artichoke ravioli. It was just too contentious. Too stressful.

Dinner should be delicious, not fraught.

Head below the jump for Ann’s recipes for Pasta con le Sarda and Golden Papparedelle.

Pasta con le Sarda

prep time: 1 hour, give or take, depending on your fish ~ cooking time: 1 hour

  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion, sliced
  • 4-6 cloves Garlic, minced
  • Anchovies, to taste
  • 1 hot, dried Chile, chopped
  • 2 medium Fennel Bulbs, chopped and washed
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1/2 c Dry Vermouth
  • 2 little boxes of Golden Raisins, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes and drained
  • a handful of Pine Nuts or Slivered Almonds
  • 1 box of Pomi crushed Tomatoes
  • 4-5 fresh Sardines, cleaned and chopped into bite sized pieces + 1-2 fresh Sardines per person, cleaned and set aside
  • your favorite pasta, homemade or from the store

Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add a few anchovies to taste and the dried chile. Cook for a few minutes until the anchovies break down. Add the fennel and cook until begins taking on a golden color. Season with salt and pepper, turn up the heat and add the vermouth. Cook until nearly evaporated. Add the raisins, pine nuts and tomatoes. Turn heat to medium again and bring to a simmer. Add the chopped sardines and cook until broken apart.

The sauce is done and can hold now until the pasta is done.

Just before serving brush the remaining sardines with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on a cookie sheet. Turn on the broiler and cook the fish under the broiler for a minute or two. Do not allow them to burn.

To serve, cook the pasta until al dente and drain. Put a pile of pasta on each persons plate, spoon some sauce on top and give each person a fish. Finish with a drizzle of very good olive oil. Enjoy!

Golden Pappardelle

prep time: 20 minutes ~ cooking time: 3 minutes

  • 1 3/4 c Flour
  • 4 Egg Yolks
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Saffron

Cook’s Note: You will need a spritzer full of water for this recipe.

Put the flour in a large bowl and create a well in the middle. Combine the egg yolks with a dash of water (about 2 tbsps), a pinch of salt and as much saffron as you can stand. Mix to combine. Pour the liquid into the flour and mix it in as best as you can with a fork. Turn the dough out onto a clean, dry surface and begin kneading. The dough will be very dry and very crumbly. That is okay.

Spritz the dough with water from time to time until it comes together into a cohesive mass, then keep kneading and lightly sprtizing until the dough becomes stretchy, springy and perfectly smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes.

Run the dough through your pasta machine to the fifth thickness. Cut into long wide noodles. Cook in a large pot of salted, boiling water for a few minutes, 3-5 until done. Toss with your favorite sauce. Enjoy!


22 Responses to “Love/Hate”

  1. Clumsy January 23, 2008 at 12:13 pm #

    I didn’t like fish until about 2 years ago (coincidentally when I met Jim) but now I *love* it—even your description of de-spining the sardines makes me drool!! Though, come to think of it, the only fish I’m not wild about is tuna, I think it’s not “fishy” enough for me.

  2. Jennifer Hess January 23, 2008 at 12:24 pm #

    Awwww… at least you tried! And honestly, though I lovelovelove sardines, I understand that they’re just not for everyone.

    Your pappardelle look just gorgeous, btw.

  3. Lydia January 23, 2008 at 2:06 pm #

    Hooray for you — you tried, for Isaac, and you had a 50-50 chance of actually liking the dish. I love fish, and most shellfish, but not sardines, and not anchovies. Go figure.

  4. Ann January 23, 2008 at 2:11 pm #

    Good for you! And we have something in common… Jack is the fish lover in our house. I like fish, but I’m not wild for it. Unless it’s shellfish. Otherwise… I can take it or leave it.

    Your pasta looks to die for.

  5. mary January 23, 2008 at 6:44 pm #

    That pasta looks awesome and the sauce looks divine; I’m so glad you humored your guy. I have the opposite problem – my guy doesn’t like fish (or beets or eggplant or a bunch of other stuff that I love, but that’s another story).

  6. Merri January 23, 2008 at 6:49 pm #

    I love fish, but have NEVER had to gut one..(eek!) you are brave!
    I sure hope they repeat that episode; I have followed Jamies’ shows from the very start..most enjoyable.
    Great blog!

  7. izzy's mama January 23, 2008 at 11:03 pm #

    What a timely post..You did the right thing. Sardines are far healthier than tuna. They are one of the few good ones left. Maybe you will develop a taste for them. I love fresh sardines grilled with lemon and herbs..just eat the bones and all. You might try canned sardines with cream cheese on black bread..

  8. ann January 24, 2008 at 8:05 am #

    Clumsy — Perhaps I should try to take your attitude. I should try to love them. *sigh* I just can’t… But yeah, after the initial ick factor, the de-spining was, uhm, kinda cool. Does that make me crazy?

    Jenn — Thanks! I am sooooo proud of my noodles. They were *amazing*

    Lydia — That’s not surprising to me, they’re little fish, so that makes me think they’re even more packed with whatever it is that makes fish fishy.

    Ann — That’s a good way of putting it, I can take it or leave it. It’s nice knowing I’m not the only one out there that feels this way. Must be the name ;-)

    mary — Hehe, Isaac was like that when I met him, but he’s come around. I’m trying to be the same way, but it’s hard! I should be more flexible about the fish.

    Merri — They should! I’ve been a Naked Chef fan from the beginning too. Anglophile foodies of the world unite! Thanks for the kind words. I love that short film from Pixar too. It’s so wonderful!

    Izzy’ Mama — I know! I didn’t even know about that tuna article when I was writing this. I guess “they’re” listening to my private thoughts again ;-) I do love grilled sardines (love love). That’s how they served them all over Croatia, but unfortunately, no grill. So that makes that a little harder :-) I definitely can’t handle tinned fishes. Way too fishy. Isaac only eats them when I’m not at home because he loves them.

  9. Christine January 24, 2008 at 9:32 pm #

    Oh, my mom was born in Sicily and pasta con le sarde is one of my favorites! Probably because we rarely had it as it was uncommon to find fresh sardines in the Jersey ‘burbs. We never added saffron or tomatoes to ours, and while I might be inclined to leave the tomatoes alone, as I can’t break *too* much with tradition, the saffron sounds like a really nice touch.

    Goodness, I guess I know what I’ll be making this weekend.

  10. K January 25, 2008 at 11:03 am #

    I’m just very proud of you for sucking it up and trying something new, even though you were almost certain you would hate it. That’s a true foodie! Good for you!

    Although I have to wail very quickly: how can anyone hate sardines??? They’re such tasty little treats. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but I routinely eat them straight out of a tin, on crackers, with a little dollop of hot sauce or ketchup. Gross, I know. :)

  11. Terry B January 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm #

    I came to love fish only after a great deal of intervention by Marion, so I’m always surprised to hear anyone is less than thrilled by fish. I thought I was the last holdout. What totally impressed me, though, Ann, is the homemade pasta. Looks and sounds lovely. Oh. And the cannon photo in a post that includes a “testy” discussion? Perfect.

  12. Terry B January 25, 2008 at 1:37 pm #

    Marion’s intervention was unfailingly patient and gentle, I must add. It of course helped that she’s a fabulous cook.

  13. Merri January 27, 2008 at 2:36 pm #

    LOL Anglophile foodies..that is cute!

  14. michelle January 27, 2008 at 10:41 pm #

    That is some gorgeous-looking pasta. I had firm plans to buy the past attachment for my kitchenaid this month, but the universe had other plans and I was forced to spend my money on a pile of cookbooks from a going-out-of-business borders.

    If could make my spouse gut/de-spine the fish, I’d love to try this. What would happen if I left out the raisins? I can’t abide cooked raisins Can I just add a touch of honey to the sauce for sweetness?

  15. ann January 28, 2008 at 7:36 am #

    Christine — Aha! I was wondering about that, the saffron and tomatoes that is. Some recipes had them, some didn’t, but since I see any meal as an opportunity to eat tomatoes, I decided to include them, and since it was the saffron noodles Mario made that endeared the recipe to me, I decided to do that too.

    I was in an Italian store out here in Bay Ridge yesterday and they actually had a canned “condiment” for pasta that sounded exactly like Pasta con le Sarda. Now that I look for it, it’s everywhere!

    K — I have a situational love of sardines :-) I loved them in Croatia, but for some reason they’re just not “home” food for me. Zany, right? Oh well…

    Terry — Oh, funny! I didn’t even realize the connection between the cannon and the testyness. Lol! I just snapped that picture because I couldn’t believe anyone would have a cannon in their front yard. I’m trying so hard to like fish, but, *sigh* it’s just so hard.

    Merri — Teehee :-)

    Michelle — You know, now that I’ve got a pasta maker, I’m not even sure that I ever needed it. I prefer papardelle and other thicker pastas than linguini and spaghetti, so I cut most of them by hand. Give making pasta a try by hand. You might not even need it!

    As to the raisins: You probably wouldn’t even notice they’re there. I couldn’t taste them at all. Is there a different dried fruit you like more? You could chop up dried apricots or apples or cherries? Or honey… Honey would probably work too. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Anne January 28, 2008 at 8:05 pm #

    You are a trooper, Ann, a real trooper. And a true, to-the-bone foodie! Gutting sardines! I would have to be pushed to try sardines as well. Not a fan.

    I loooooovvvvvee pappardalle too. It’s the tops.

  17. ann January 29, 2008 at 9:10 am #

    Anne — We’re such pasta-soul-sisters ;-)

  18. Julie January 31, 2008 at 11:25 pm #

    I’ve never had fresh sardines and I think I’m basing my dislike for them on canned sardines which isn’t very reasonable when I stop to consider it, but in general I don’t like dark or oily fishes. But…. if they were really fresh and they were made like this, I might enjoy them. I can tell you positively though that I’d love the pappardelle.

    BTW, your local fishmarket sounds great.

  19. Drink, Memory February 21, 2008 at 5:04 pm #

    I laughed reading your conversation with Isaac about making this recipe, as it sounds like a conversation my husband and I would have. Also, when you had him go back for the sardines-yep, that’s me. But food decisions are never easy. I ordered the grilled sardines at Agnanti Meze because I really, really wanted to love them, but alas, my husband had to eat them. I just couldn’t get into it. However, now that I know where to get fresh ones I’m going to try out your recipe soon. thank you!

  20. ann February 24, 2008 at 11:45 am #

    Julie — They’re not bad little guys, not the best, but not bad, and a world away from tinned fishes. Our fishmarket is wonderful, now I only wish it was open on Sundays.

    Memory — Oh that’s good to hear that there are others like us/me out there. We’ll have to go back to Agnanti so he can order them there. Thanks for the tip :-)

  21. Don Wilson May 8, 2008 at 1:27 pm #

    O.K. I don’t quite get a foodie that doesn’t like fish…but as they say in Chile..”Cada loco con su tema” or in English “to each his own.” However, as far as I’m concerned fresh sardines are one of the true wonders of the world. In Los Angeles you can get them at the Korean markets in season at very good prices. As an alternative I buy Smelts at Whole Foods Market and have made the pasta with excellent results. My 11 year old (who also loves sardines, anchovies, smelts, etc) loves the job of deboning the fish which makes this recipe an ideal mid week quikie dinner and we eat this about twice a month. Oliver’s recipe for anchovie sauce with raisen and pine nuts is also fantastic.

  22. ann May 9, 2008 at 6:45 am #

    Don — Hi, and thanks for your comment! I guess it’s a good thing I don’t consider myself a true “foodie” then. I don’t spend nearly enough time hunting after the next hot ingredient or next hot chef to have earned that appellation. But, as you say, to each their own. I’m sure there are things you don’t like that I would consider a travesty as well.

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