Deconstructed Pasta con Sardina – The Rest of the Story + A Recipe

Two layers of the wee fishies in olive oil - from the King

Convinced by my artful weaving of celery leaves and sardines into a little deconstructed appetizer, Bonney agreed to give Pasta con Sardina whirl. I think it turned out pretty well, based on the fact that her serving vanished in mere moments, leaving behind only a vague fishy aroma in the air, a tiny speck of green on her plate, and the luscious aroma of metabolizing garlic.

Here’s the way the dish ended up:

Skinny pasta with sardines, onion, garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes, lil tomato paste, parsley

Capelli con Sardina

The Recipe

Ingredients (two servings, this scales pretty easily)

  • 8 oz. capelli d’angelo (angel’s hair ) or any long pasta shape of your choice.

Note: Traditionally, this served with a large, sturdy shape, like perciatelle or pappardelle. I think it would also be good with bucantini.

  • Splash olive oil + a small splash for the pasta
  • Half a medium onion, sliced.
  • Four cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • A small handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • A tablespoon of tomato paste
  • Two tablespoons dry vermouth
  • Water as needed to create a bit of sauce (about 1/3 C)
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs or to taste
  • Pinch of coarse salt, fresh ground pepper to taste.
  • One tin good quality sardines, packed in oil. I used King Oscar Two Layer in Olive Oil. I’ve been eating those forever, and I like ’em.

Note: If you know of a better sardine, I would love to hear about it!

  • Juice of half a juicy lemon + a tiny bit of finely minced zest. Two words: Microplane grater.
  • Grated Pecorino cheese


Cook pasta al dente, toss with a teaspoon or two of olive oil for a moment, then add the bread crumbs and stir / toss to incorporate

Heat an 8-10″ fry pan over medium heat for a couple of moments until it’s hot, add a splash of olive oil, swirl and heat until it just starts to shimmer in the pan

Add the onions and cook, stirring and tossing regularly, until they’re soft and just starting to brown. Add the tomato paste and a pinch of coarse salt to the onions and stir thoroughly, cooking the tomato paste slightly

Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant

Add the vermouth and water, deglaze the pan, scraping at the bottom with an enormous wooden spoon.

Turn heat down to simmer

Add the pepper flakes and a few twists of fresh pepper, simmer for a moment, stirring gently

Add the sardines. The operative word is gently. These little guys have had a rough life, you want to show them some love. Also, they look a lot nicer when they’re not mashed into tiny pieces. So gently, with reverence. I put them into the sauce and just tried to cover them up with a little of the sauce to their sides. You’re really just trying to warm them up, they need no cooking.

Taste and correct for seasonings. You shouldn’t need much, if any, additional salt.

Pasta on plate. Sauce on pasta. Careful!! The wee fishies are still very breakable. Serve with grated Pecorino.

This went beautifully with a light salad. Bonney made a great salad with Trader Joe’s Salad / Herb mix (hey, it’s *winter* around here), some beautiful pieces of ripe Bosc pear, a few crumbs of Stilton cheese, and a few Lars Crispy Onions. Lars are (is?) the bomb! If you don’t have the time or inclination to crisp up your own onions or shallot, these little guys are beautiful, delicious, and made with only onions, vegetable oil, wheat flour and salt. Amelia at The Woodstock Farmers’ Market in Woodstock, Vermont, says she “worships these”. You can buy them at most good supermarkets. And you can even buy them at IKEA!

Bonney's beautiful salad