It’s not hard to love a sardine. After all, they’re packed with protein and omega-3s, largely sustainable, and—if you know how to cook them—absolutely delicious. For that last part, we’re dog-earing Foods of the Italian South: Recipes for Classic, Disappearing, and Lost Dishes, the new cookbook from Katie Parla, the Jersey-reared, Rome-based food-and-beverage culinary guide.
A follow-up to her award-winning Tasting Rome, the book collects heirloom recipes from Campania, Basilicata, Molise, Calabria, and Puglia—what Parla calls “the sparsely inhabited and weird haunted corners of the south.”
The fishermen of southern Italy have a time-honored way of handling everyone’s favorite small, bony fish. It was in Puglia that Parla discovered this method, which involves frying the sardines, then packing them in saffron-scented vinegar.
“In Gallipoli, I went out with a fishermen’s consortium into the Ionian Sea. They caught a bunch of sardines and whipped this up for lunch,” she says. As the sardines marinate in the tangerine-tinted brine, the flesh firms up and absorbs the saffron aroma. On their own, they make a flavorful addition to an antipasto spread, but you can also flake them for tossing with pasta—spaghetti, red pepper, and olive oil is a strong and very southern Italian move—or mounding over charred bread smeared with pesto.
Whatever way you eat them, you won’t think of sardines the same way again. And you’ll never reach for the can.
Reprinted from Food of the Italian South. Copyright © 2019 by Katie Parla. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup water
- 6 to 8 saffron threads
- Neutral oil, for frying (such as grapeseed, canola, peanut, or corn)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 lb whole fresh sardines, cleaned
- Sea salt
How to make it
In a small saucepan, combine vinegar and water and place over low heat. Just before it boils, remove from heat and add saffron. Set aside to bloom. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
In a medium frying pan or cast-iron skillet, heat 2 inches of oil to 350°F.
Place flour in a shallow bowl. Dredge each sardine in flour, shaking off any excess.
Working in batches as needed, fry sardines, turning once to ensure even cooking, just until golden, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels and season with salt. Be sure oil returns to 350° before adding next batch.
Layer fish in a glass or ceramic dish. Pour vinegar mixture over fish. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 days before serving.