A deceptively simple recipe hailing from southern Italy, Pasta con le Sarde is at its core a pantry favourite. As undemanding a dish as one is likely to find, the uncomplicated combination of hot pasta, olive oil, garlic, anchovies and tinned sardines encompasses the flavour of Sicily – with the latter providing the dominant note. Traditionally served on Christmas Eve, the sauce in itself is a celebration of languid cooking – the kind of catering that should be the norm over the festive season.
But since Christmas has subsequently come and gone and the mania of a new year has begun, I see no good reason why Pasta con le Sarde can’t be attempted as a speedy midweek dinner or lunch. While purists may wish to honour the original ingredients, I’ve decided to add a twist to the dish in the form of tomatoes, black olives and capers – paying homage to two of my preferred pasta sauces – Sarde and Puttanesca. Known for their range of quality products imported from the Mediterranean, Serena has made developing tempting new recipes directly from my store cupboard a breeze. The addition of Serena tinned tomatoes give my Pasta con Le Sarde a sunny, summery taste whilst their tiny green capers add a burst of salty piquancy that balances out the oiliness of the sardines. When it comes to pasta, authentic Pasta con le Sarde uses spaghetti, but tagliatelle or even linguine would work well. Wanting to experiment with the union of a delicate noodle with a heavier sauce, I opted for Serena’s Capelli D’Angelo. Directly translating into “angel’s hair”, this pasta varietal is an ethereally slim noodle, lightly curled into little golden nests and unfurling beautifully in boiling water.
Speaking of seafood, I would stress that tinned sardines are best for this recipe as they have been cooked in their cans, removing the need to clean and fillet the fish. Bottled brown anchovy fillets add a savoury flavour to the tomato-based sauce, reducing the need for salt whilst my final ingredient of a glug each of Serena’s red wine vinegar and grappa (or any base white spirit – like vodka) give the dish depth.
Pasta con le Sarde
Prep time: 10 mins /Cook time: 15 mins /Serves: 4
You will need:
250g Serena Capelli D’Angelo pasta
1 400g tin of Serena chopped Italian tomatoes in tomato juice
1 400g tin of Serena Italian whole cherry tomatoes
1 70g tin of Serena tomato paste
1 large brown onion, peeled and finely chopped
200g whole black olives, drained
50g Serena capers in vinegar, drained
6 brown anchovy fillets
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely grated or crushed
4 sprigs of fresh oregano or 10ml dried oregano
15ml Serena red wine vinegar
25ml white grappa or vodka
200g (two tins) of sardines in oil
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
A handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Add a glug of olive oil to a large saucepan and fry the onion over medium to low heat until soft and translucent. Add in the anchovy fillets, olives (pit them before cooking if desired) and capers and cook gently for a few minutes. Deglaze the pan with the red wine vinegar. Season the mixture with a crack of black pepper then pour over both tins of tomatoes. Stir through the tomato paste and add in the garlic. Strip the oregano leaves from the stalks and add to the sauce – spoon in the dried oregano if not using fresh. Pour in the grappa or vodka and season with salt and pepper is necessary. Leave the sauce on a very low heat to simmer and thicken slightly. Remove the sauce from the heat and very gently stir through the sardines, retaining the oil left in the tins. The sardines shouldn’t cook in the sauce, but rather be added at the very end. Feel free to reserve one or two fish to garnish the top of the dish with.
Fill a large pot with water and add a glug of olive oil and grind of salt. Set the pot over high heat. When boiling, add in the Capelli D’Angelo and cook for 3 minutes for al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce. Return the drained pasta to the empty pot, along with the reserved cooking water and oil from the tinned sardines. Spoon over the sauce and gently stir through the pasta.
To serve, dish the Pasta con le Sarde on to warmed plates, drizzle with olive oil and scatter over a little grated Parmesan and chopped parsley. Here I’ve paired the pasta with Tanagra Wine‘s 2017 Colombard – a wild yeast-fermented varietal whose subtle fruity notes work well alongside the acidity of the tomato sauce.