Seared sardines and a vinegary tomato soup is one of those combinations that I like in the early fall when the crisp air has settled into the house but my husband is holding out on turning on the heat. It's also when the last of the tomatoes are at the market and the Atlantic Herring are swimming in the Gulf of Maine in full force. —cheese1227
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds fresh tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Small bunch of basil, leaves separated from stalks
Small bunch of chives
1 sweet onion, peeled and chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
1 carrot, scrubbed and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 small fresh Atlantic herring or Mediterranean sardines, gutted, heads and fins removed, and butterflied (tails can be left on)
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Cut tomatoes in half and arrange them, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of oil, season with salt, pepper, and sugar. Roast tomatoes until they are softened and beginning to char around the edges (about an hour).
While tomatoes roast, bring a small pan of water to a boil. Drop basil leaves and chives in water for 20 seconds. Drain the herbs. Shock them with cold water. Drain them again and squeeze them to release the water. Rough chop them and place them in a blender. With the blade running, drizzle in 1/4 cup of oil. Let the oil sit for 30 minutes, then strain. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, fennel, carrot, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, until softened. Roughly chop basil stalks and add them to the pot.
Add roasted tomatoes, their juices, and the stock to the pot. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup. Stir in vinegar. Keep warm.
Season the flesh side of the fish with salt and pepper. Place a seasoned cast iron skillet over medium high heat. When the skillet is hot, drizzle a tablespoon of oil into the pan, and lay the fish, skin side down, into the pan. Cook, without moving, for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Use a fish spatula to flip the sardines over. They will finish cooking in the residual heat of the pan.
Taste the warm soup and adjust for seasoning. Ladle the soup into warm, wide-rimmed bowls and placed a cooked sardine on top of each serving. Garnish with crème fraîche, capers, and a drizzle of chive and basil oil.
I am an excellent eater (I have been all my life). I’m a pretty good cook (Ask my kids!). And my passable writing improves with alcohol (whether it's the writer or the reader that needs to drink varies by sentence.). I just published my first cookbook, Green Plate Special, which focuses on delicious recipes that help every day cooks eat more sustainably.