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, alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.