One dish using tinned sardines that has always been a cheap and delicious stand by for me is one I created years ago when times were hard – cue violins and characters dressed in Dickensian rags. Well, they were not that hard, but you know what I mean – penny-pinching, struggling student etc etc….yawn,, get on with it! OK… Basically, it is pasta with a sardine sauce.

Tin of sardines in oil or tomato / Capers / pinch of dried oregano /Chilli flakes/  Olive oil / Tomato puree or sauce /  Spaghetti / Salt and pepper.

Strip the spines out of the sardines and add to a bowl. Add a good teaspoon of rinsed capers, a glug of olive oil, a sprinkle of chilli flakes, the oregano and a dash of salt and pepper. Mix together, breaking up the sardines. Add a dash of tomato puree or tomato sauce. Stir into hot spaghetti and you will not regret it! Sometimes I add a few fresh herbs that might be loitering with intent – e.g. basil or dill or coriander – all work well.

And, smelly as they are when cooking, it is worth giving the fresh ones a go. Open all the windows first though and warn the neighbours! Sprinkle them with rock salt and leave for an hour or two in a coldish place. Whatever you choose to cook them on, griddle pan, frying pan, plancha or barbecue, ensure the pan is very hot before starting. Take the sardines from the salt but do not brush off all the salt. Cook them for 4 minutes per side, but do not lift them whilst they are cooking. Be brave! If you move them too much they will split. Once you reckon they are a little burnt, turn them over and cook the same way. Serve with fresh lemon. Folk in the med do not gut or fillet the sardines. No need. Though I see that supermarkets are now selling them ready gutted, which might be up your street. However, whole ones taste best to me.


  1. Listen to this, when I visited my beloved Italian cousin in Turin, (the bride in my recent post), she showed me this delicious pasta dish using canned sardines in oil and this gorgeous purple cauliflower. My mom often made pasta with broccoli where she would add the cut up broccoli directly into the pasta water in the last few minutes of cooking and then dress with salt, pepper and olive oil.

    In my cousin’s version, as the pasta cooks, take a pan and melt the canned sardines in oil. They should essentially disintegrate. Now you can either cook the cauliflower (purple) drain and add to the sardine oil mixture or cook the pasta and add the cauliflower in my mom’s fashion. The sardines essentially are the salt component of the dish. Really flavorful and fresh and good.

    Interestingly, a similar very plain sarde dish is made on Christmas Eve in some Italian households in the celebration of the Feast of Seven Fishes. Some of those use breadcrumbs as well. You can add garlic too…you get the idea. I’ve never cooked real sardines out the can – I am afraid of trying to cook oily fish for some reason. But your dish looks wonderful….sorry for the long comment:)


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