“That without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund.” ~ Anthony Bourdain
Communicating the visceral joy that spice counters, fishmongers, green markets, and food experiences in general inspire in me is sometimes difficult to articulate. I love the colors, the smells, the tastes, the inspiration. I am eternally grateful to my forward-food-eating parents for exposing me to unusual and out of the box ingredients and eating during my formative food years.
Standing with a new ingredient in my hand unleashes a wild food train in my brain. How will it taste with xyz ingredient? What if it was roasted instead of eaten raw? And on it goes until the food train settles on a destination.
Working with King Oscar again this year is not only a delight, but an opportunity to keep riding the wild food train to a different destination. People have knee-jerk reactions to items like sardines, kippers, mackerel. We have visions of a grumpy old man in his armchair spreading sardines on saltines for an evening snack. We reject these teeny little cans out of hand because of how we think it is going to smell and taste.
I knew that working with the unusual and reactionary ingredients from King Oscar would bring these feelings up in some of my readers, but I ask you to step out of your comfort zone and get on the Hungry Goddess food train. It will taste good, I promise. And if it is not for you, at least you will not be called static, repetitive, or moribund by Anthony Bourdain.
Incorporating King Oscar products has other benefits besides boosting you from your comfort zone: King Oscar’s fish are wild-caught from Norway’s pristine fjords and icy coastal waters with eco-friendly and sustainable fishing policies in place. They are low calorie, zero carbs, and high in Omega 3’s and protein. And I love the challenge of working with them! Read my full review on King Oscar here
The Spring veggies are starting to make appearances in the markets and I could not resist incorporating them into a traditional Sicilian recipe – Pasta con le sarde – Pasta with sardines. Sardines – fresh and canned – are used often in Mediterranean diets. My Pasta with Spring Vegetables and Sardines is inspired by the Pasta con le sarde recipe from the esteemed Marcella Hazan. Her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is indeed essential to every kitchen IMHO.
I made substantial changes from the original recipe by using fennel (and not just the tops), adding more vegetables, substituting golden raisins for black raisins, and using my techniques in the cooking process. I kept the idea of adding saffron which infused the sauce with a delicate smokey flavor that complemented the sardines and vegetables beautifully. The recipe got a thumbs up from friends and neighbors!
Look for baby fennel coming out this Spring, although regular fennel sliced on the mandolin does just as well. I used asparagus tips and reserved the stalks for a Raw Asparagus Ribbon Salad with Meyer Lemons – Spring is the season for this salad! The tomatoes were a combo of some gorgeous baby heirlooms and canned tomatoes.
Are you ready? The Hungry Goddess food train is leaving the station and you are invited to get on-board!
Ingredients (serves 4-6):
- 1 tin of King Oscar Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil – drained (any of the King Oscar sardines would work!)
- 2 baby fennel bulbs or 1 large fennel bulb sliced thin (mandolins work best) – reserve some of the fronds – discard the stalks and root end
- 1 large yellow pepper de-seeded and sliced into strips
- 1 pound of fresh asparagus – cut off the tips and reserve the stalks for this salad
- ½ cup raisins
- large pinch of crumbled saffron threads
- 2-3 tablespoons of Olive Oil
- 2-3 tablespoons of butter
- 4 garlic cloves – minced or pressed
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 pound of baby heirloom tomatoes rough chopped
- 1 pound of Brussels Sprouts – trimmed (you will use another 1-2 tablespoons of Olive Oil for roasting)
- 1 pound pasta (use a larger pasta like penne, ziti, spaghetti, or fettucine)
- Salt and Pepper to taste (if the sauce tastes “fishy”, use a bit more salt to balance)
- Parmesan Cheese to garnish
Prep your veggies: slice the fennel; de-seed and cut the pepper into strips; cut off the asparagus tips; peel the garlic and have your press handy; rough chop the tomatoes; trim the Brussels, drizzle with Olive Oil, and place on a baking sheet to roast for approximately 20-30 minutes at 400F or to your preferred level of doneness (do this while you are making the sauce).
Add Olive Oil and butter to a large skillet on medium heat. I use both because the butter adds a bit of rich, creaminess! Add your pinch of crumbled saffron threads to a cup of lukewarm water and reserve.
Once the butter has melted, add the fennel, pepper strips, and garlic and cook for a few minutes until soft. Add some salt and pepper and the red pepper flakes. When the pepper and fennel begins to soften, add the asparagus tips.
Add the saffron with water and raisins. Stir and wait about a minute. Next add the tomatoes – canned and fresh to the skillet (include the water from the tomato can). Add 4-6 sardines to the sauce. Adding salt balances a stronger fish flavor. Begin with less sardines and add to taste – experiment! They will break up and dissolve in the sauce. Reserve the other sardines for garnish. Bring sauce to a medium to high simmer. Taste to check your seasonings – add salt and pepper, more pepper flakes, or even another pinch of saffron in water if you like. If the sauce dries out too quickly, reduce heat and add a bit of water.
Check your roasting Brussels to see if they are brown enough for you. Put your pasta water on to boil while the sauce is simmering and reducing. I used a specialty Wild Garlic flat pasta for the dish but tubular pasta or spaghetti or fettucine will all work great. A spinach pasta might make a nice addition too! Boil your pasta according to directions. After it is drained, toss the pasta with a drizzle of Olive Oil to keep it separated or reserve a bit of the pasta water.
Your sauce should be on the thick side and reduced. If not, keep simmering until it reduces and is thicker.
Serve the pasta with a generous spoonful or two of the sauce. Add Brussels to each dish. Garnish with Parmesan Cheese and sardines (as many as you like!).
ENJOY! Happy Spring!
THANK YOU to King Oscar, one of our treasured sponsors who keeps the Hungry Goddess hopping to create new and delicious recipes!
More King Oscar posts from me: