Lemony Pasta With Sardines & Escarole

March 11, 2022
6 Ratings
Photo by Ty Mecham. Prop Stylist: Alya Hameedi. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

Often the most budget-friendly meals are the ones compiled with what’s already in the kitchen. Like this salad pasta—not pasta salad—of sardines with raw bitter greens. It starts with short pasta ($1.85)—I’m partial to bow ties (aka farfalle), but anything goes. While the noodles boil, let’s talk about sardines. There’s no way around the fact that fish is expensive, but having tinned fish on hand can be an economical option. The tins are shelf-stable, sometimes for years, so you can stock up when you find a good deal. It’s also true that a number of tinned fish brands are quite expensive, and justifiably so when you consider ethical sourcing and labor, but it’s possible to find reputable brands of sardines—Season is a great one—for about $2 to $3 a can (we’ll use two here). And here’s a bonus sardine tip: Buy oil-packed for a free start to salad dressing; better yet, if you pick tins seasoned with lemon peel, tomato, or pickled peppers, that’s even more bonus flavor built right into the price.

Here's how this dish gets away with being so cheap (and so good): Drain the oil from the sardine tins into a large bowl, then whisk it with grated garlic, chile flakes, and the zest of a lemon ($0.50). Toss the warm pasta in the spicy sardine oil, then add a torn head of escarole or romaine ($2). Could you just as easily swap in radicchio, arugula, or baby spinach if you happen to have it in the fridge? Of course. For brightness, finish the whole mess with lemon juice and a fat handful of chopped dill ($0.40). —Rebecca Firkser

Test Kitchen Notes

Nickel & Dine is a budget column by Rebecca Firkser, assigning editor at Food52 and sardine-hoarder. Each month, Rebecca will share an easy, flavor-packed recipe that feeds four (or just you, four times)—all for $10 or less. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 ounces short pasta, such as farfalle or rigatoni
  • 2 (3- to 5-ounce) tins sardines packed in olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 large lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons mild chile flakes, such as Aleppo, piment d’Espelette, or gochugaru, plus more for serving
  • 1 (12-ounce) head escarole or romaine, washed and roughly torn
  • 1/2 cup (about 1 ounce) chopped fresh dill (fronds and stems), mint, or basil (or a mix)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. When it comes to a boil, add a handful of salt, then cook the pasta according to the package directions.
  2. While the pasta cooks, transfer the sardines to a small plate and the cans’ oil to a large bowl. Use a Microplane to grate the garlic and lemon zest directly into the bowl. Add the chile flakes, then use a fork to combine the mixture.
  3. Drain the pasta and immediately transfer to the large bowl with the garlicky oil and toss aggressively.
  4. Halve the lemon and squeeze into the bowl. Add the escarole and dill, then toss to coat. Gently toss in the sardines. Season with salt and more chile flakes to taste. Drizzle each serving with olive oil, if desired.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Gretchen
  • hlecuye
  • Twinkle

3 Reviews

hlecuye March 3, 2023
We used spaghetti pasta, romaine lettuce, and Aleppo pepper. We also topped ours with chopped kalamata olives. This was an excellent use for the sardines and made a fantastic cold spaghetti salad.
Twinkle March 16, 2022
This was incredibly tasty and versatile! Made some minor adjustments based on what I had available. I reduced the amount of pasta (chiocciole) to 9oz and added a half head of radicchio so it would be heavier on the greens. For herbs, I only had a small amount of some sad Italian basil so I bolstered it with a mess of chives. I used piment d’Espelette and gochugaru but didn't get much spice. Next time, I'll use regular red pepper flake to amp up the spiciness. I ended up using a whole lemon and finished everything with an olive oil drizzle since there was a large volume of leafy vegetables.
Gretchen March 16, 2022
This was so simple yet so tasty and satisfying. The combination of textures and flavors are wonderful and the leftovers are amazing!