It all began with an exercise in budget-tightening a few months ago, when I began to explore the cupboards for inherited canned goods and overlooked dinner options. Behind a dozen boxes of Jello, I found a dusty can of sardines in olive oil.
I eat sardines. I like sardines. Just, I generally take them (and tuna) packed in water for Howard Hughes reasons.
My usual preparation is just a tweak on the old standard -- drained sardines on saltines with butter and hot sauce. Delicious, but it doesn't quite feel like a meal, eh?
So, anyway, I spent an evening on Google and came up with a bunch of possibilities to populate my, er, Dark Bookmark. Most of them called for ingredients beyond what I had in the larder, so I just filed it all away for later.
I've been making experimental meals and things that Annie wouldn't enjoy the past few days, in advance of her moving down here, just to get them out of my system. Scrambled eggs with shrimp, fried chicken with the skin on, extra garlicky garlic bread, that sort of thing. Last night, emboldened by a recent success with spaghetti and clams and by a four-pack of Black Swan wine singles (I didn't drink them, they were just the missing ingredient — our secret ingredient) I decided to try out Pasta with Sardines and Fennel.
Okay, full disclosure time. I didn't actually review any of those recipes I collected before making the dish. I had a general memory of the geography of them though -- fried sardines, wine, fennel. Also, I eliminated the fennel. A bold move, I realize, but it was just one variable too many, and I hoped to not have to cook dinner twice. Oh, and it may have called for fresh sardines.
So, it went something like this:
- two cans sardines in olive oil, drained, oil retained
- 2 or 4 cloves of garlic, diced
- 1 green onion, diced
- enough red pepper flakes
- some white wine
- pasta (spaghetti, in this case)
- fresh basil (my addition)
Dredge sardines in flour and saute in oil. Add garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes. De-glaze with wine, add pasta and continue cooking a bit. Thin with some pasta water if necessary. Add basil, serve. Reserve fennel for some other dish.
So, my first tastes were very promising -- a nice crisp flavor from the wine cut through the sardine musk, and the garlic and red pepper failed to disappoint. But it was gluey, with very little liquid, and I'd already ditched the remaining pasta water. “No problem,” I thought, “I'll just add some more wine.” Whoa! Too winey! And, of course, at this point the pasta was far from al dente. It was closer to al... umm... how do you say “gums” in Italian? So, trying to cook out more wine just resulted in mushy, gluey, winey, and still too dry pasta. With sardines. Fortunately, there was no fennel in it.
I blame the fennel. Also, it's entirely possible that I was imagining the presence of flour in the original recipes. Whether it was an ingredient or not, I could certainly benefit from leaving it out of the recipe next time. I'd always questioned it's advisability and authenticity in my mind, anyway. Other possible changes: skip the sardines, pasta, et al. and order out. We have some really great local pizza places.