Dinner Tonight: Pantry Pasta & Salad

Capers, garlic, lemon zest. All such wonderful flavor bombs, all things that good weeknight cooks need up their sleeves, or, even better, in their kitchen. A little bit of any one of these can transform a ho-hum plate of pasta/chicken/fish/whatever into a savory, bright treat. Put them all together, with a simple salad-and-pasta meal as their base, and you've got one boldly killer meal. A real midweek perker-upper, ready in just about an hour, of course.

The Menu

Linguine with Sardines, Fennel and Tomato by lastnightsdinner

This recipe serves 2-4

Kosher or sea salt
1 tin sardines packed in olive oil (about 4 ¼ oz.)
extra virgin olive oil
2-3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed, and roughly chopped
1 small or ½ large bulb fennel, fronds reserved
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes, or more to taste
1 cup canned peeled tomatoes with their juice, gently crushed
2 ounces white (dry) vermouth
1 medium lemon, juice and zest
1/3 cup toasted bread crumbs
3/4 pounds dry linguine

1. Bring a very large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.

2. Open the sardine tin and drain a tablespoon or so of the oil into a wide skillet (the amount of oil in the tin will vary by brand, so add additional extra virgin olive oil if necessary to make up a tablespoon). Warm the oil over medium-low heat and add the garlic, cooking until fragrant.

3. Trim the fennel and slice the bulb very thinly (a mandoline works great here). Add to the skillet with a sprinkle of salt, raise the heat to medium, and cook until the fennel is soft and beginning to caramelize. Add the chile flakes and let them sizzle for a minute, just until fragrant, then add the tomatoes with their juice. Cook until the liquid is reduced, then add the vermouth and let that reduce slightly.

4. Add the sardines to the skillet with the tomato and fennel mixture, breaking up slightly but leaving some chunks. Zest the lemon and combine a tablespoon or so of zest with the toasted breadcrumbs, then set aside. Juice the lemon and add the juice to the pan. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.

5. Add the linguine to the boiling salted water, cooking it until it is just short of al dente. Using tongs, transfer the linguine to the sauce to finish cooking, adding a little bit of the starchy pasta water and tossing gently to combine. (You'll want to leave this a little wet, as the breadcrumbs will soak up the sauce and dry the pasta out a bit once you've added them.)

6. Transfer the pasta and sauce to a large warmed serving bowl (or individual pasta bowls), add a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle on the toasted breadcrumb-lemon zest mixture, and garnish with picked small fennel fronds and the remaining lemon zest.

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April Bloomfield's Lemon Caper Dressing

Get the recipe.

The Grocery List (for 4)

1 tin sardines packed in olive oil
1 small fennel bulb
Salad greens (your favorite)

We're guessing you've got Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, sugar, Maldon or another flaky sea salt, capers, lemons, linguine (or something similar), shallots, bread crumbs, canned tomatoes, chili flakes, and garlic. If, for whatever reason you don't have those things, you'll need those, too!

The Plan

1. Much like the grocery list, this plan is quite straightforward. The dressing can just sit in the fridge waiting for the pasta, so make that first!

2. Once the dressing is done, set a pot of water on the stove to boil. Prep your salad greens & set aside.

3. Make the sardine-erific pasta sauce. When the water is ready, toss your pasta in.

4. After you add the pasta to the sauce to finish cooking and absorb all that lovely sauce, dress your salad.

5. Serve! Scarf. Dinner's really good, so you might need seconds, and that's okay.