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A Regional Italian Pasta Dish
This recipe for pasta with sardines is our version of a traditional Sicilian dish, and a regional variation on a similar recipe from nearby Calabria: Spaghetti with Breadcrumbs and Anchovies.
To make it, we combine boneless sardines packed in olive oil with sweet sautéed onions, fresh breadcrumbs and garlic toasted in olive oil, lemon zest, parsley, a pinch of crushed red pepper and a handful of capers (optional).
If you’re a fan of Italian food (and who isn’t), we really urge you to give this dish a try even if you think you don’t like sardines. When you choose good quality sardines packed in olive oil (not water), they have a clean, subtle fish flavor much like tuna.
Sardines have a lot of nutritional benefits too. They are low in calories, high in protein, and have decent amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, iron and potassium. And, because they’re so small, sardines are low in mercury too.
Shopping for Sardines
Skinless, boneless wild sardines in olive oil from Wild Planet is our favorite brand of sardines to use for this dish. They’re sustainably caught, come packed in a BPA-free tin, and are non-GMO certified.
You may be able to find them in your local market, but we generally buy them a few tins at a time from Thrive Market. That way we can keep them on hand for a quick and easy “pantry” dinner.
Sicilian Pasta with Sardines
Pasta tossed with sardines, toasted breadcrumbs and onions is an easy, authentic Italian recipe that originates from the island of Sicily.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 2 servings 1x
- Category: Main Dishes
- Cuisine: Italian
- 6 ounces spaghetti or linguine
- 1 (4.25 ounce) tin sardines in olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs (see recipe notes)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained (optional)
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Put a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
- Open the sardines, drain the olive oil into a frying pan and set the sardines aside.
- Heat the oil over medium heat, add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute.
- Add the breadcrumbs, season lightly with salt and pepper and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the crumbs are lightly toasted and crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the crumbs to a plate and set aside.
- Return the pan to the stove and add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and sauté until soft and slightly caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the sardines, break them apart gently and cook just long enough to heat through, 2 minutes.
- Stir in the lemon zest, parsley, crushed red pepper and capers, remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain and return to the pan.
- Add the sardine mixture along with half of the reserved cooking liquid to the pasta. Toss to combine, adjust the seasoning and add a little more liquid if needed.
- Add the breadcrumbs, toss again and serve immediately.
Note: This recipe can easily be doubled.
We generally like to use stale Italian bread (crust included) to make the crumbs for this recipe. Depending on the diameter of the loaf, 2 to 3 slices make about 3/4 cup of crumbs.
If your bread is fresh, you’ll need to dry it in a 300°F oven for about 10 minutes or toast it on the very lightest setting.
Most of the time we keep a bag of “fresh” breadcrumbs in the freezer, but if we just need enough for a dish like this, a few pulses in our favorite mini food processor does the trick.