Add a surprising and delicious touch to your pasta sauce with sardines - a can of these rich-tasting little fish adds an umami depth of flavour to a simple tomato sauce (no fishiness) and packs a powerful health punch. If you want to add more fish to your diet, this is a tasty way to do it. (Skip to recipe.)
Before you go 'yeccchhh' and click away, let me tell you that the sardines in this pasta sauce are nothing like what you remember in childhood, or what you think sardines might taste like (in the event that you've never actually tasted them). Don't let yourself be turned off the humble little sardine before you know what a nutritional powerhouse it is. You might get to like it, after you hear its pedigree.
Sardines are super rich in the omega-3 fatty acids which we need for heart health and to lower cholesterol. They are a concentrated source of vitamin B12 (one 90gm can provides more than the daily requirement per person), and they also have high amounts of tryptophan, selenium, protein, phosphorous, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B3 and choline. How's that for good news?
And even better news - in this pasta sauce full of bold flavours, the sardines just meld in to add richness, but not overpower, the other assertive ingredients. In other words - you can hardly taste those healthy little fishes in this robust sauce. It's a great way to ease into sardine-eating for the timid. A good glug of red wine mellows out the acidity of the tomato sauce base, a chorus of onion and garlic sings with a few high notes of sweet little carrot cubes, a hit of oregano and rich sun-dried tomatoes add harmony, and the puckery jolts of capers add the accent notes.
Even though I LOVE eating sardines now - I understand those of you who don't (yet), because I felt just that way growing up. My parents loved sardines (full of flavour and cheap, too) but they're European and ate all kinds of fish that turned up the noses of my friends - herrings (pickled, canned and fried), smoked mackerel, eel, octopus. A common lunch for our family was several cans of sardines, sweet butter and a loaf of rye bread, and onions (maybe a few sliced fresh tomatoes to eat alongside). We'd spread our bread slices with butter and smush a few sardines on top. When the sardine can was empty, my dad would put chopped onions or chives into the oil that remained in the can, let them sit for a few minutes to blend flavours, then eat them with gusto, wiping the last bits of oniony oil from the sardine can with a piece of bread.
I do have to admit that I was the squeamish kid who would carefully pick the fine little row of vertebrae out of my sardines and scrape out the guts (no delicate way to say this) before I could eat them. I hid this behaviour from the stern gaze of my father who thought I was being wimpy and wasteful (my mom understood and aided me in the surreptitious removal of the offending fishy body parts). Now that I'm a grown-up, I can easily squash the tasty little sardines onto my bread and throw on a few slices of sweet onion, then eat the whole thing - bones, guts and all. No squeamishness anymore- just pure enjoyment of a very delicious little fish. A very nutritious little fish.
I often open a can or two of sardines and mix them with mayonnaise and onions and fixings (minus the pickles), just like a tuna salad. The soft little bones aren't even noticeable once they're all mixed in. Very tasty, I must say (and even more healthy).
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Kitchen Frau Notes: On the day I took the pictures of this pasta sauce, I only had sardines in tomato sauce in the house. They worked fine - I just added them into the pasta sauce along with their tomato juices. If you have regular sardines in oil or water, you can drain them before adding them to the sauce.
This recipe serves from 4 to 6 people, depending on the size of the appetites. Usually about 1 pound (450gms) of pasta serves 4 people, so cook the amount you think you need for your crowd. I used brown rice spaghetti.
Tomato Pasta Sauce with Sardines and Capers
- 2 tablespoons olive oil,
- 2 cups diced onion (1 large or 2 medium onions)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup finely diced carrots
- ½ cup (120ml) red wine
- 1 28 oz. (796ml) can diced tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup (60ml) sundried tomatoes in oil
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 2 cans sardines - in oil, water or tomato sauce
- spaghetti or other pasta for the amount of people you are serving
- parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
- leaves of fresh basil for serving (optional)
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the diced onions, garlic and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent and tender.
Add the wine, tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the sauce reduces to the thickness you like. If it gets too thick, use some of the pasta cooking water to thin it out.
While the sauce is simmering, cook the spaghetti according to the package directions, in lightly salted water. Reserve some before draining it in case you need to thin out the pasta sauce.
Open the sardine cans (that's the fun part - but watch when you pull away the last little bit of the lid, because a few drops of the oil or tomato sauce invariably splat out and always seem to go right for my shirt). Drain them if they are in oil or water - use the liquid if they are canned in tomato sauce. Cut the sardines roughly into a few pieces each (they are very soft and will mush up a bit - no matter) and add them to the pasta sauce along with the sun-dried tomatoes (with their oil) and capers. The sardine pieces will melt right into the sauce and you won't even see them. Dilute the sauce with the reserved pasta water if needed.
Cook the sauce for 2 to 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until it is bubbling again.
Serve over the cooked pasta, garnished with parmesan cheese curls (shave them off the cheese block with a vegetable parer) and torn up leaves of fresh basil if you like.
Serves 4 to 6
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OK Sis, we have finally subscribed to your blog. It was easy as eating ready made pie! Loved the gourmet chocolate silk dessert spread on bread and dipped in fresh strawberries. Will try the sardine sauce. Thanks for your food, love, support, laughter, and best of all sisterhoodship. Nancy
ps am trying to spread the news of kitchenfrau........
How wonderful to see you here - both on the blog and at our house! It was so great to have that time together! Thanks so much. Love your ideas for the chocolate on the bread and strawberries - guess I'll have to go make some more to try it right now. . . .
A Canadian Foodie
OK - this sounds pretty fishy, but LOOKS delicious. I love anchovies, especially fresh ones, so this is truly something I am actually going to try. I have learned you have a pretty darned good palate, and we shall see if this lovely little concoction is enjoyed by all...and hopefully, no splashes on my shirt.
Hope your crew likes it as much as mine does and doesn't think you are up to something 'fishy'! As for the splashes on my shirt - I think I am going to have to start wearing a big ole garbage bag as a bib next time I open a can!
This post decided it for me. I was humming and hawing about taking the computer along on our trip across Canada (to start in two days - counting down the hours - yeh!!) because, you know, the gaming thing with those boys gets a bit much (ugh). But the thought of being without resources (cookbooks or the internet for much needed ideas) to make camp cooking interesting is too much. So, I can definitely see making this gourmet pasta on a camp stove - easy, peasy. Thanks for the great idea. I think I'll try it and see if my boys can guess what the secret ingredient is - thanks to Tante Margaret. See you in three days!!!
You're going to have such a fun trip (and, yeah, the computer will give you your own getaway when you need it). I wonder if the boys will guess the 'secret ingredient'? It should work great for camping because you won't need to worry about keeping meat fresh (and you can sneak in super healthy food for fueling those active boys for biking) plus -oh dear- you're going to have to do something with the rest of that bottle of wine you'll need to open for this recipe!
SO looking forward to seeing you all!
What a wonderful recipe. This is something I can eat in the next three weeks. I am on a no dairy, and no meat diet due to health reasons. Not even chicken or turkey......just fish.
I gave your Auntie Helene some of you business cards, so hoping she will subscribe on your blog. It was good seeing you, and the rest of the family. I sure had fun, especially with you and Nancy. Love you, and miss you.
Sounds like you'll have to get creative with your diet in the next few weeks! This recipe would work well, and it's easy to make a half recipe, too. Thanks so much for your support of my blog - you are the best! Hope we can have more visits like the last one! XOXOXO
So glad you've posted this. I have known for a long time that sardines are a great healthy addition to one's diet...but just how to incorporate them without the "yuck" factor. I imagine this would be a good topping for cooked quinoa, yes?
I always love it when I can 'sneak' healthy food into something tasty - sometimes I have to fool my own brain, too! And, yes, I think you're onto something - would probably taste pretty good on quinoa or other grains, too. Great idea!
I'll have to try this. Love the idea of using sardines in the sauce.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you like the sauce as much as we do.