Tag Archives: Sardines

A hen-of-the-woods-sardine-capers extravaganza

19 Aug

My children’s daycare provider is a retired nurse, who also happens to be an Italian grandmother. 

Often, as I drop off the girls in the morning, I am greeted by the unmistakable, scrumptious fragrances of their lunches.  My stomach grumbles, and I start salivating as my girls bounce into the house, and I’m sent off to work with:

“We’re having turkey meatball soup with pastina, kale and beans!”

“We’re having whole wheat pasta with sautéed zucchini, onions, eggplant in homemade gravy!”

“We’re having freshly made waffles with fresh blueberries!”

This past week, I was a bit flustered every night as I raced against bedtime(s) to prepare dinner for the girls.  We had gone away over the weekend, so I did not have my usual opportunity to pre-cook in advance. 

I needed something quick to prepare, that was healthy, but hearty.

Upon a quick search, I was happy to find ingredients for a quick meal.  The pantry produced some sardines, capers, a jar of tomato sauce, and whole wheat linguine.  The garden had some fresh onions and tomatoes.  The refrigerator had garlic and a package of maitake.   I was ready to cook.

Dinner was going to be linguine with a sardine, maitake and caper sauce.  My kids cheered when I said “We’re going to have men-men (their nickname for long noodles) and osakana (translation:  fish).”

MEN MEN!” both girls jumped up and down, and clapped.

They then, ran into the living room to prepare their own version of dinner at their play-kitchen.

Here’s how I made this dish:

2 cans sardines in water, drained (conventional)

1 package fresh maitake – I use Hokuto brand maitake, which I carefully rinse, and then roughly chop into 1 inch pieces

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 red onions, minced

2 tbs capers, drained

Handful cherry tomatoes, or a medium tomato cut into bite-size chunks can also work

2/3 jar Trader Joe’s Basil and Tomato Marinara sauce (adjust the amount depending on your preference for more or less liquid)

1 tbs olive oil

Whole wheat linguine – enough for 2 adults.  The amounts above made enough sauce for 2 adult meals – this was enough for the girls and myself.  Papa was working late – and he’s not a sardine fan… he doesn’ t know what he’s missing!

Heat up the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion, and stir well until fragrant.  Add the drained sardines (I pick out the intestines, but don’t remove skin or bones) and break the pieces up with a wooden spoon.  Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and capers, and mix everything together.  Lower the heat and allow to simmer.

In the interim, bring a large pot of water to boil.  I add two large pinches of salt.  Once the water’s boiling, add the linguine, and cook until al dente.

Once the pasta’s done, I drain the pasta, reserving a ladleful of the pasta water, and stir into the sauce.  Plate the pasta, and ladle the sauce.  Add some freshly ground pepper or cheese if you prefer.

The girls enjoyed picking out the capers, and swirling their forks through the linguine.  My mother, who watched them devour their dinners, suggested adding freshly julienned shiso to the sauce as seasoning.  I’ve had a bumper crop of the fragrant herb so this certainly is a good idea!

Savory sardine pasta sauce

9 Jun

There’s something addictively delicious about this tomato sauce accented with  sardines and capers.  The sauce is rich in flavor and texture, and each bite is complex – robust, tangy, salty, with an undercurrent of sweetness from the onions.

I can see you, reader, pause, and either a) wince, furrow eyebrows, and wonder, “What is SHE talking about?” or b) knowingly smile, and nod, agreeing that you and I are in the sadly under-represented sardine lover’s club.

Sardines often elicit a wrinkled nose, or a “Oh, that’s so disgusting” response resulting from either a poor first encounter, a lack of a proper introduction (or opportunity), or a negative childhood experience.  The sardine’s fishiness is an acquired taste, and either takes some getting used to (take a leap of faith, I promise it’s worth it!) or it’s something you simply may not enjoy.

Growing up, (as do my daughters) we ate dried sardines (niboshi), baby sardines (shirasu) and grilled sardines (iwashi), most often served whole.  Whole grilled smelt (shishamo) were also often eaten as a special treat – so for me, it’s important to honor this (and other) humble fish in any way possible for myself, as well as for my family.

I drizzled olive oil into a pan, heated it up, and added a palmful of minced garlic, and a medium onion minced.  I sprinkled it with a little salt, and cooked until the onion was translucent, and the oil, fragrant.

Into the cooked onion and garlic, I added a can of well-drained sardines (in water), breaking it up with a wooden spoon, as well as handful of capers, and cooked over medium heat.   (If you have a tin of anchovies, you can also add a few filets – I tend to be heavy-handed with anchovies, but two or three pieces might suit your taste)

I added a pack of Pomi brand chopped tomatoes (they are in Tetra paks, and not canned – supposedly no BPA leaching), and mixed everything together, and reduced heat to low.

Once the sauce thickened, I served it over whole wheat rotini pasta, and garnished with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.  Of course, add salt and/or pepper to taste.

Back to school Monday with a fish tale to tell

13 Apr

The weekend brought a bit of excitement to our lives.  My older daughter enjoyed her second day at Japanese school, and I was starting to see semblance of a routine for Saturdays.

We then had our nephew come to stay with us – as my sister-in-law headed into the hospital in preparation for the girls’ newest cousin’s arrival… 

This was a bit exciting for my older daughter – but the little one was still recovering from the bug she had on Thursday.  Hopefully my nephew didn’t pick the bug up during his stay with us.

Sunday morning brought us the usual noodle routine.  Both girls had a bowl of udon (wheat noodles) with poached egg, spinach, carrots, scallions with a shiitake based soup.  I gave my nephew a small amount, but cut his noodles into small pieces, as he probably wouldn’t know how to eat the noodles.

My brother-in-law, who missed seeing his son on Saturday, stopped by to see him.  Before I go further, just a few points to clarify.  My husband is as “American pie” as they come – and until he met me, he probably ate Chinese food (never Japanese food), maybe once a year, and never utilized chopsticks.  Now, fifteen years later, he may not eat as much Asian food as I wish – but he is very supportive of my maintaining and incorporating Asian, especially Japanese culture into our children’s lives, and frankly, his chopstick holding skills are amazing.  In Japan, where often, image is important, proper chopstick etiquette and positioning is crucial.  I’ve taught him well! (Rather, he learned efficiently and correctly!)

Back to my brother-in-law.  He is as American as they come, and is half Italian and half Irish.  I have a suspicion I am probably one of the few non-American, non-Caucasian people he’s come into close contact with, and I am fairly certain, from a food standpoint, he is extremely conservative and reluctant to try anything different.  Case in point – at my husband’s younger brother’s birthday dinner, I decided to order the whole roasted branzino over sautéed spinach.  My husband doesn’t order whole fish – but I’ve grown up being served whole fish, and I have no hesitation ordering this at a restaurant.  Once the fish arrived, I could see my brother-in-law visibly becoming uncomfortable (I was sitting diagonally across from him) and soon, there was a fortress of menus shielding him from seeing the fish on my plate.  At the time, I was slightly amused, but more annoyed – as this reminded me back to my childhood when non-Japanese playmates and school mates would look at me in horror when I told them I had sushi for dinner.

Jump forward to Sunday morning.  I offered the children a handful of niboshi to hold them over until the soup was done.  Both girls happily munched on the little fish, similar to little slivers of potato sticks.  My nephew followed suit, and munched on the fish – and was enjoying the new food.

My brother-in-law arrived, and joined us in the kitchen.  He asked what I gave them for breakfast, so I told him, “Japanese noodle soup with a little egg, spinach, carrots and scallions.”  My nephew had a few bites to eat, and then sat at the table watching his cousins, and babbling in his 18 month old language.  I told him, “Look, he likes these,” and offered my nephew another niboshi.  My brother-in-law looked perplexed, and asked, “What is that?”  I told him, “It’s dried fish – dried baby sardines.  They are very healthy, and high in calcium.”  He was a bit taken aback, and asked my husband, “You eat that?”  My husband replied, “I don’t – but the kids eat it.”  My brother-in-law continued, “Those are something my dad and I would go fishing with…”

I didn’t really think much of the discussion at the time.

My brother-in-law then asked, “Can I make cheese on toast for him?”  I was slightly annoyed, but responded, “Sure.  But you’re going to have to make it, because that isn’t really part of my repertoire.”  He then proceeded to toast a slice of bread with American cheese on top, and offered it to my nephew.  My nephew turned his nose up at the bits of bread, and tapped the kitchen table with his soup spoon.

Perhaps it was the clash of cultures that got me a little riled up in my kitchen that Sunday morning.  Perhaps it was the fact I had thoughtfully made breakfast for the kids – and was only trying to expand my nephew’s horizons – and yet, here was my brother-in-law in my own kitchen, making something he thought was better for his toddler – while one part of my brain was telling me, hey, you’ll be able to exposure your nephew(s) to a larger world through food, for free!! – while the other part of my brain was spewing, “PROCESSED CHEESE (think – fat) on CARBS??”

The kicker to the story was when I later found out, he reported back to my sister-in-law (who was in labor) and my mother-in-law, I had offered fish bait for breakfast to his son.  Fish bait?? Ex-cuuuse, me.  Aren’t you half Italian – specifically Sicilian, where fish, including sardines are used often and enjoyed?

Boy – I have a lot of work to do to ensure my children are continued to be exposed to the infinite world of multicultural and healthy eating!!

My husband tried to assuage me as I started venting, “How dare he call my food, fish bait!  One man’s fish bait, another’s food!”  “At least he didn’t take it away from our nephew, you know,” he said.

True, but NOW, I hope I get to have my nephews over more often so I can  expand their food and cultural horizons!

Monday’s lunch was:

Turkey-flax-vegetable-oatmeal-meatballs, baked

Trader Joe’s tortellini (conventional) with marinara sauce

Cucumber sticks, red pepper slices

Roasted beets in heart shapes