Linguine with Sardines, Fennel & Tomato

By • January 22, 2011 144 Comments

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Author Notes: Though some of you probably can’t imagine sardines being a crave-worthy food, I’ve been completely smitten with them since my first taste (a long-ago birthday dinner at Prune restaurant in NYC, where my husband and I shared a starter of sardines with Triscuits, mustard and cornichons). These days we’ve always got a few tins in the pantry at home, so it’s easy to put together one of our favorite weeknight dinners – linguine with sardines, fennel, and tomato, my version of a classic pasta dish known as “Linguine con Sarde.” The sweet, slightly caramelized fennel and the bright tomatoes and lemon work really well with the rich flavor of the sardines, and the crunchy breadcrumb topping makes for a fun textural contrast. Think you don’t like sardines? This simple pasta dish just might make you change your mind. (Note: It goes without saying you should use the best quality wild-caught tinned sardines you can find. Some of our favorites are Wild Planet, Cole's, MorGaDa, and BELA-Olhão, all of which I’ve used and any of which work well here. Also, tiny fresh tomatoes are a wonderful replacement for canned during the summer months - Super Sweet 100s, left whole, or halved small cherry varieties work beautifully. Just add a pint or so to the pan in step 3 and let them cook until softened.) - lastnightsdinnerlastnightsdinner

Food52 Review: When we tasted lastnightsdinner's rich, sea-infused pasta, our first thought was: "It's amazing that you can make something that tastes this good using fish from a can!" This simple, pantry dinner (the only thing you may have to shop for is the fennel) packs a punch with just a few ingredients. Perfectly al dente strands of pasta are tossed lightly in a sauce of garlic, fennel, tomato, lemon and vermouth, studded with briny bits of sardine; the oil from the canned sardines enriches the sauce, and a shower of lemony toasted breadcrumbs brightens the dish. We found it challenging to caramelize the fennel without burning the garlic; if you'd like, you can add the garlic after you've sauteed the fennel. - A&MThe Editors

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 pound 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.

More Great Recipes: Fennel|Pasta|Entrees|Bread|Tomatoes

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Comments (144) Questions (3)


4 months ago Cheryl

Really liked it. I used only 1/2 lb. pasta, though, and that worked for me. I would have liked a whole large fennel bulb, so will try next time.


4 months ago joan bertie

Followed this recipe to the letter, and it was super good, the next time I might add a wee bit of sirachi for a bigger hit of heat, but regardless, this was an excellent recipe. Used Portuguese sardines, so not so strong a fishy taste.


5 months ago Melissa Ariana Case

This is so so SO good. I made it for myself for dinner this evening and am scarfing it up along with a lovely sauvignon blanc and a whole lotta Frank Sinatra. :)


5 months ago NazNyc

I've made Dave Pasternacks recipe. Equally yummY!


5 months ago MaryFrancesCooks

Your linguine recipe looks delicious! Sardines are indeed a treat. If you're on a sardine kick, I recommend you try my recipe for grilled sardines. So yummy!


5 months ago heatheranne

I'll have to try this! One of my favourite pasta dishes is something I saw on TV made at a restaurant in Italy - anchovies, capers, roasted cherry tomatoes, a bit of passata, and some fresh basil. So easy and so amazing. This seems quite similar.


7 months ago Bethany Cornish Smith

This is a favorite of mine as well. Thanks so much for posting it!!


7 months ago Sarah

I make this all the time - probably more frequently than any other dish. It's so great and easy! I always leave out the vermouth, though. I'm not very good at cooking off alcohol.


7 months ago elf1

Cooked this tonight and it was fennel and the breadcrumbs (poor mans parmesan) were lovely sprinkled on the top. Calorie saving too!
Thank you for sharing, felt I was in Italy and not grey cold UK!


11 months ago Regina Lomboy Garner

I just made this last night and it was divine. Even my 6 and 8 year old devoured it and asked for more.


about 1 year ago lavierouge

Can your recipes start including calories too?


about 1 year ago Mary

Is there a way to make this with only one burner? Sadly, my stove is out of order so all I have is a single burner and a microwave. If this is possible, I am really excited to try to make this. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!


about 1 year ago p

i just made this tonight and it's oh so very tasty. i liked it because it was pretty easy and gave me something to do with the fennel and little tomatoes i couldn't decide what to do with. love it!


over 1 year ago sevenfaces

Fantastic weeknight pantry meal. I managed to put this together in 20 minutes flat, even after a few glasses of wine under my belt! I used celery instead of fennel (I can never find it at the markets), retained a lovely bit of crunch even after the sauce cooked down. Adding a few twists of freshly ground black pepper works well with the lemon to really make this dish sing.


over 1 year ago zOOmz

I think it is worth it to make the recipe as it is without changing it. It was killer! Thank you!


over 1 year ago kristina Rudic

Super easy and quick recipe! I added kale and carrots and it worked wonderfully together with the other flavors. Oregano doesn't hurt this either :) The pasta can be any kind but I opted for fusili con buck and it was a great addition to the texture!


over 1 year ago WeekendCook

For Kim and other oily fish nay-sayers, I used to think that too, until I had the most delicious spaghetti with sardines and fennel at Morandi restaurant in NYC - it knocked me over it was so delicious. I am definitely going to try this recipe - Morandi used whole wheat pasta, and that might be a good counterweight to the sardines.


over 1 year ago Laura Lomas

Made this the other night and it was absolutely delicious! I used gluten free pasta and no breadcrumbs and everyone - especially my 15 year old son - raved about it. I added more lemon juice and zest to the sauce.


over 1 year ago Gregory George

Just reading this and have decided this is our Sunday Winter Supper tonight.


over 1 year ago twinjadojo

Mr. Twinjas made this for us tonight and it was oh so good. He reports that he subbed a dry sherry for the vermouth, used a large lemon, and cheated back a bit on the breadcrumbs. The flavors in this dish (lots of my favorites in here) dance together, and are proof positive that you are seriously missing out if you avoid oily fishies. We love to mix it up with new dishes all the time, but this one is getting a spot on the go-to list. Thanks for this!