So we’re really hitting the difficult patch of the year now, when most of us start to desperately crave something other than root veg. Don’t get me wrong, I love the versatility of root vegetables, but in order to get through the winter without cracking and resorting to ditching the efforts to eat seasonally, we do need to have a few dishes in our repertoire that, whilst making the most of what’s available right now, also allows our store cupboard to come into its own.
Now I know strictly speaking fennel season is over by a few weeks, but I am still getting a few in my veg box so that is why this recipe has made it into the January section. In case any of us need reminding, fennel is a great source of dietary fibre, vitamin C, histidine, flavonoids and potassium. Perfect for protecting against cancer, lowering blood pressure, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, stimulating the production of haemoglobin and boosting the immune system. Add to all this the numerous health benefits of eating sardines (I’m talking B vitamins, vitamin D and calcium to name but a few) and you have an exceptionally healthy yet cheap winter meal. But if you’re like me and need to see piles of green or red to believe you’ve had your anti-oxidant quota, couple this meal with a spicy spinach, rocket and tomato salad and you’ll be onto a winner. Close your eyes when you eat it; with all those gorgeous flavours you’ll almost believe you are in Sicily.
Store Cupboard Sardine Penne
2 small fennel bulbs
1 red chilli
4 cloves garlic
50 ml lemon vodka
100g sundried tomatoes
Salt and pepper
4 120g tins of sardines in water
Juice of one lemon
Large bunch of fresh basil
Start, as usual, by crushing your garlic and leaving it to one side.
Dice up your fennel quite finely, but without much ceremony and sauté it for around five minutes in a splash of olive oil. Let the anchovies ‘melt’ in the warm oil and then pour in your vodka, and around 100 ml of water then turn up the heat until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Put your water on for your pasta, then throw your garlic and red chilli into the pan and allow to cook for one to two minutes.
Chop up your sundried tomatoes quite finely and add them into the fennel mixture too, with the sardines. Use a wooden spoon to slightly break them up.
When the pasta is cooked, add the juice of a lemon, the fresh shredded basil and some of the pasta cooking water if you feel that the sauce needs a little thinning, and toss through the pasta.
Check the seasoning, then serve immediately with your salad. Enjoy!