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In Our Kitchen: Spaghetti With Sardines, Lemon and Anchovy Bread Crumbs

Spaghetti With Sardines, Lemon and Anchovy Bread Crumbs is a great weeknight dinner, especially toward the end of the week, when the fridge may be a little low but you can depend on your pantry. And this dish is no sacrifice. It is salty, delicious and enhanced with a jolt of green from arugula, kale or whichever green you have around.

ILEANA MORALES | Special to the Times

Spaghetti With Sardines, Lemon and Anchovy Bread Crumbs is a great weeknight dinner, especially toward the end of the week, when the fridge may be a little low but you can depend on your pantry. And this dish is no sacrifice. It is salty, delicious and enhanced with a jolt of green from arugula, kale or whichever green you have around.

The single-girl meal. For me, it had always been eggs or a tuna sandwich.

These days, I turn to a tin of high-quality sardines. When I'm hungry I just peel back the top of the can to find glistening, plump fish. Halfway to dinner. On nights I find myself alone, I make my dinner for one. This is a meal that is to the point and often involves things on toast.

To make sardine toast, I heat up a drizzle of oil in a small frying pan and gently saute a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Toss in sardines to warm and infuse them with the flavor of garlic. Spread on toast. Sprinkle with salt. Dinner for one.

It's a satisfying meal every now and then, but no one would call it inspired. I set out to find a dinner that was nearly as straightforward but elevated. I found the answer in a recipe for spaghetti with sardines, lemon and anchovy bread crumbs. Everything I needed was in my pantry, which is part of this dinner's appeal. I've been stashing several colorful tins of sardines in the cupboards ever since we picked up fresh Portuguese sardines on a whim and liked them very much. Sardines are also great because they're a sustainable fish option and incredibly nutritious. The whole meal doesn't take very long so it's perfect for a weeknight.

Everything starts with the bread crumbs. You're supposed to use fresh white bread crumbs, but we only had panko and it worked fine. The crumbs sizzle in the pan, soaking up a lot of olive oil in the first minute. It looks like a paste that won't crisp up, but the color is more important here. You want to let the crumbs brown for a bit. Set them on paper towels and as they rest they'll crisp up until they look and sound like shaved ice when served.

Be generous with the bread crumbs on the pasta. As you twirl a fork in the spaghetti, it's a mini avalanche and the bread crumbs coat every strand. You'll want all pasta served with this salty, crisp accent.

It's an unbelievably good pantry meal that hits all the right notes — bright, salty and packed with protein, greens and carbs. I've used arugula and baby kale on different occasions, but you can use whatever small, slightly bitter greens you have around. Somewhat reluctantly, I shared the leftovers with my boyfriend, Danny. Dinner for one or more, this is one to keep in your back pocket.

Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, She can be reached at


Spaghetti With Sardines, Lemon and Anchovy Bread Crumbs

10 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more

6 tablespoons fresh white bread crumbs

About 14 ounces spaghetti

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small hot chili, chopped and seeds removed, or pinch of chili pepper flakes

7 ounces sardines in olive oil

1 lemon, zested and juiced

3 ounces arugula or baby kale (or more if you want this to be a little heavier on the greens)


Place the anchovies in a skillet with 4 tablespoons olive oil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the anchovies fall apart and melt into the oil, about 7 minutes. Stir in the bread crumbs and turn up the heat to medium. Keep stirring the bread crumbs frequently until they fry up to a golden brown color, no more than 10 minutes. Strain the bread crumbs and place them on a plate lined with paper towels. This is when they'll really crisp up.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente or as tender as you like it, 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the sardines, making sure to reserve the oil. Use a fork to break the sardines into small pieces. Clean and dry the skillet used for the bread crumbs. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and cook the garlic gently over medium heat. Stir in the chili pepper and the sardines.

Drain the spaghetti when it's done and reserve a bit of the pasta water. Pour the drained pasta into your skillet with the sardines. Toss the pasta to coat and add in the arugula and the zest of a lemon and half its juice. Add a generous splash of the reserved pasta water and toss the pasta again until everything is just about evenly distributed. Taste for seasoning and add some of the oil from the sardines if needed or the rest of the lemon juice. Sprinkle generously with anchovy bread crumbs on top and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Adapted from the Rachel Eats blog, who adapted it from Rowley Leigh in The Crisis Cookbook

In Our Kitchen: Spaghetti With Sardines, Lemon and Anchovy Bread Crumbs 03/17/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2014 4:42pm]
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