Ari's Top 5, Good Food

Pasta with Sardines and Olive Paste

Superfine supper from pantry to plate

This dish has long been one of my old standbys. It offers comfort and a compelling combination of great flavors that consistently brighten my evening. The main ingredients are good pantry staples I try to have on hand all the time—top quality pasta, tinned fish (aka conservas), and olive paste from Italy—to make last-minute meals when I get home even later than usual from work.

The olive paste, if you don’t know it, is a purée of olives, olive oil and spices that’s easily added to almost anything—sandwiches, salad dressings, dips, and spreads. We have a lovely one we’ve been getting for decades from the Boeri family, packed with the brand name ROI, on the Italian Riviera—they use only the local Taggiasca black olives, which have a wonderful, slightly sweet, delicate flavor.

To make your meal, start by coarse chopping some onion, fresh fennel, and red pepper. I had some celeriac (celery root), so I used that as well—it’s mellower than celery and adds a nice depth to the dish. Slice a fresh lemon and cut the slices into quarters. Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over moderate heat and add the chopped vegetables and the lemon pieces. Stir well, sprinkle in a bit of sea salt, and sauté until they’re soft. Add a generous spoonful of capers (if they’re salted capers, soak first in fresh water for a few minutes, then drain off the water).

Meanwhile, bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of sea salt (I like the gray salt that comes from Brittany, not far from where that bike race ended in Brest). When the water has reached a rapid boil, add long pasta—for this dish I prefer thicker forms like spaghettibucatinifettuccine, or linguine. Stir the pasta so it doesn’t stick.

When the vegetables are soft, turn the heat down so they stay hot but don’t overcook into mush. When the pasta is al dente, lift it gently (so it doesn’t break) out of the cooking water and place the pasta into the pan with the vegetables. Turn up the heat and mix gently. Open a tin of really good sardines and add it to the sauté pan. Add all the liquid in the tin—there’s a lot of flavor in the oil. Add a tablespoonful of pine nuts. Stir gently. Lastly, add a few generous spoonfuls of Italian olive paste. You can add more or less, of course, to taste. If you like spice, add some Maras red pepper flakes.

When you’re ready, put it all into warm bowls. Over top, grate on some bread crumbs (which can be made in the moment simply by toasting some good Bakehouse bread and then running it through a hand grater). Pour on a ribbon of good olive oil and lots of freshly ground black pepper and… it’s a pretty fine 15-minute meal.

Pick up Olive Paste from the Deli
Pick up a tin of sardines from the Deli


P.S. Other good tinned fish—like tuna or that Patagonia Provisions smoked mackerel I wrote about a few weeks ago work well in this dish too.


P.P.S. If you’re not into tinned fish, you can certainly sub in some chicken or pork as well! Or skip the fish/meat altogether and you’ll have a very fine vegetarian—and with most artisan dried pasta, vegan—meal!