I fell for the salty brine of tinned sardines long before I knew it was semi-sustainable to choose the tiny little guys over tuna. Ever since I was using my college bucks debit card to buy groceries from the campus C-store, little sliver squares of little silver fish were among my pantry staples, back then alongside the mac and cheese and the ramen. I like them in olive oil, in tomato sauce or with chiles (picantes, if they’re from Spain) and I bring home a few varieties from the supermarket whenever I travel outside of the States. For lunch, when I am especially lazy, I’ll eat them straight out of the tin with some toasted bread and some parsley from my windowbox. (Okay, who I am kidding, I’ll also eat them with Saltines.) When I am less lazy, I’ll make this, which is a little like the Sicilian pasta con le sarde, I think, in spirit.
1. Cook maybe 1/3 of a box of strandy pasta, like spaghetti or linguine. Save some of the pasta water.
2. Meanwhile put one tin of sardines in olive oil in a metal bowl and break them all up with a fork — meaning smash them to bits.
3. Add about 1/4 cup of chopped parsley leaves and add in about 1/8 cup of breadcrumbs and a lot of freshly cracked black pepper. Mix this all together really well, if it looks really dry add some extra virgin olive oil.
4. When the pasta is ready drain it and keep a little bit of the water or use tongs or a fork to just toss it with the sardines, working as fast as you can so the heat will heat up the black pepper and olive oil.
5. Mix everything really well with tongs or two forks so every strand is coasted and squeeze in one squirt from half a lemon, add a couple of spoonfuls of pasta water, mix again.
6. Taste to make sure it’s salty enough, if it needs pepper or lemon. If it’s dry, add some pasta water, maybe some olive oil. But you don’t want it soupy or too oily, more like the way pesto covers pasta but slightly drier than that, even.
7. Let it sit for like 5 minutes so the breadcrumbs get all moisty. Taste again for salt and lemon and pepper. Add some grated cheese, maybe, but it’s totally fine without.