This is a recipe that I discovered when I was researching for my cookbook, The London Cookbook. Ruthie Rogers, the chef-proprietor of The River Cafe in London is actually American married to a Florentine named Richard Rogers. You may recognize his name as the architect of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the iconic Lloyd’s of London. If you’ve ever been to The River Cafe, you will no doubt have noticed the warm modernist and terribly glamorous design. It’s a sexy restaurant, not fussy, not flashy, just sexy. Just sleek enough, just enough color, a long cool bar, flattering lighting that isn’t the usual shade of warm yellow, but rather more dusk-like. And then there’s the food… The best ingredients cooked just enough to reveal their best essence. The brazino is brazino on its best day, so too the veal chop, the burrata, the nettles. For years, I overlooked the soups, my gaze travelling immediately to my favorite pastas and risottos. But this soup changed that. It’s classic agrodolce (sweet and sour). In fact, it hits it all—salty, sweet, sour, bitter. Add to that soupy, creamy from beans, and crisp from the toasted ciabatta, and you have one exciting bowl of soup. Consider this the polar opposite of a French velouté. Texture here is friend, not foe. But beware too: the timid among us may need a bit of coaxing when faced with sardines. Sardines might have a bad rap, but, if ever there was a soup to redeem them—this is that soup.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion and gently cook until soft and translucent but not brown. Add the anchovies and crush into the onion, then add the pine nuts, sultanas, sliced garlic, and fennel seeds and stir to combine.
Lay the sardines in the pan and season. Pour over just enough boiling water to cover the sardines, then cover and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes, or until the sardines are cooked. Add the borlotti beans and stir, crushing and breaking up the sardines.
Toast the bread and rub lightly with garlic on one side. Place each of these crostini in a bowl and ladle over the soup. Sprinkle with parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil to serve.