Pasta with Sardine Cream Sauce

Mitchell Davis

James Beard Foundation, NYC

One of the best ways to eat fresh sardines is simply grilled and served with a squeeze of lemon. But we also love this pasta recipe, which can be made with fresh or canned sardines, adapted from JBF executive vice president Mitchell Davis’s book, Kitchen Sense. Look for wild-caught sardines from the Pacific Ocean.


  • 1 pound dried long, thin pasta, such as spaghettini, spaghetti, or linguine
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 slices pancetta, prosciutto, or bacon (about 1 ounce), finely chopped, or 1 additional tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 (6.5-ounce) can skinless and boneless sardines packed in olive oil, drained well, or 8 fresh sardine fillets
  • 2 tablespoons capers, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or additional extra virgin olive oil


In a large pot of heavily salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add about one third of the garlic and cook for a minute or two, until soft.

Add the bread crumbs, stir to coat with the oil, and cook until the crumbs are lightly toasted. Be careful not to let them burn. Stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons of the chopped parsley and the lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Return the pan to the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the pancetta. Cook until the fat has rendered from the meat, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and cook for another minute. Add the sardines and capers and cook, mashing the sardines with a spoon, for another 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and lemon juice and bring to a simmer.

Add the heavy cream to the pan and return to a simmer. Drain the cooked pasta and transfer it to the frying pan along with the butter and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon parsley. Toss to coat the noodles with the sauce. Simmer for a minute or two, until the sauce thickens and adheres to the pasta. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowls and sprinkle with the toasted bread crumb mixture.


4 servings