Best Thing Out of a Can

Best Thing Out of a Can

sardine pasta featured header


I’m back from my 11 days trip to Hong Kong and Taiwan and find myself dealing with something that I assume everyone’s familiar with. The fridge is and should be vacant or otherwise nurturing some… organic, furry things.  Oooonly-a-few-days-expired dairies usually get tossed in the trash after reason finally overthrows desperation (hopefully).  Remaining options hover between the 24hr McHot-line or Mr. Cup Noodles.  Don’t get me wrong.  They are both great contributions to mankind and deserve a standing ovation, but guilt is calling for something homemade.

Boy do I have a solution for this.  One of my absolutely favorite pasta and it makes in no time.

Even if not for desperation but PURELY GOODNESS sake, everyone should have this in their pantry.  Good quality canned sardines.

I’m not talking about that stuff from the corner deli, soaked in tomato sauce which really acts as fishiness suppressor.  OK… fine.  I used to love those too when I was little.  But that was before I found out about the real deal.  I’ve upgraded.  I’m talking about premium, hand packed Mediterranean sardines, ever so neatly lined-up and soaked in olive oil.  Fatty, voluptuous and insanely flavorful like these trophies from Brittany that we brought back from France.  Sigh… if you’ve tried it and said “Nah…”, you are a hopeless human being who don’t like to eat.

These babies came to us while we wandered at an open market in Nice after a rejection for an early check-in by the hotel (All rooms full?  Scanned through the VERY empty lobby…  Really??…).  Tucked in the sidewalk behind the busy market, a little shop solely dedicated to a complete collection of Mediterranean canned seafoods???!!!!  OH LORD, THANK YOU!  There’s only one appropriate response to this kind of luck, and that is to go COMPLETELY OVERBOARD!  I believe we dragged 25 cans of sardines in our luggage, all the way back to Paris then Beijing.  That was a lot of weight to travel with, but a small price to pay for greatness.

Yes, greatness.  A little piece of the ocean locked in a tin can that will last a VERY LONG time, waiting to be enjoyed whenever I please.  I can just stand by the kitchen counter and eat these babies right out of the can like it’s nobody’s business.  But to make it into a meal, there is no better way than this.

Servings: 2 very laaaarge servings


  • 2 premium canned sardines in olive oil
  • 1 lb of spaghetti
  • 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • 8~10 cloves of garlic
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 6 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tsp of red pepper flakes
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 5 tbsp of pasta cooking water
  • Salt and white pepper

Seasoned Breadcrumbs:

  • 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs (I’m using Japanese Panko)
  • 6 tbsp of olive oil
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 5 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp of salt, black pepper and white pepper

Make the seasoned breadcrumbs first.

Heat up 6 tbsp of olive oil in a flat skillet.  Pull the thyme leaves off the stem and add to the skillet with the anchovies.  Yes, yes, it will pop.  It will hurt.  Use a wooden spatula to breakup the anchovies until it’s “melted” in the oil.  *Do NOT add the garlic in the beginning, because by the time it takes for the breadcrumbs to brown, the garlic would’ve been burnt.

Add the breadcrumbs with salt, black and white pepper.  Mix the breadcrumbs evenly with the oil then turn the heat down to medium.  Stir constantly and let the breadcrumbs toast and brown up.  Once the breadcrumbs take on a little bit of color, add the chopped garlic and lemon zest.  Continue to stir and toast until the breadcrumbs turn golden brown.  Let them cool slightly in a bowl.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add a big pinch of salt, then add the spaghetti.  Stir so they don’t stick to each other.

While the pasta cooks, heat up 3 tbsp of extra virgin in a skillet and saute chopped garlic, thyme leaves, anchovies, and a little black pepper.  Once the oil is fragrant (don’t let the garlic brown), add the red pepper flakes and add the oil from 2 cans of sardines to combine.  This may seem like a lot of oil, but it isn’t.  Turn off the heat now to wait for the pasta to cook.

When the pasta is ABOUT to reach al-dante, transfer to the skillet plus 5 to 6 tbsp of pasta water.  Return the skillet on high heat and toss the pasta and oil together with tongs.  Let the pasta finish cooking in the skillet.  It will probably take 2 min.  Add more pasta water if needed.  Once the pasta water’s absorbed, add the sardines into the spaghetti and toss.  Use the tongs to break up the sardines slightly.

Squeeze the lemon juice on top and sprinkle with LOTS OF seasoned breadcrumbs before serving.  This makes a great lunch for the day after as well.


  • m

    November 6, 2012 at 6:33 AM Reply

    This is very similar to my favorite pasta dish by Jamie Oliver anchovy, chili flakes, lemon, olive oil, rocket!

    PS. Really like your blog!!

    • Mandy L.

      November 8, 2012 at 2:53 PM Reply

      M, then you must try it with the sardines! the oil from the can makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE in the world!

  • sarah

    July 18, 2013 at 3:24 AM Reply

    I love anything quick and easy to make. this looks good and more

  • samantha

    August 20, 2014 at 10:46 AM Reply

    My sardines were packed in water (which I included as well) so I added some sun-dried tomato packed in olive oil to my pasta. I messed up and didn’t follow the method to cook the breadcrumbs first, but it still turned out great. Also, I cut down on the oil and still turned out great. This really is a fool-proof quick recipe. Thanks much!

  • jenny

    February 18, 2018 at 10:06 AM Reply

    Hi Mandy,
    how big is your can of sardines? e.g. 100 gram per can..?

    Thanks in advance!

  • Frank Ball

    July 21, 2020 at 5:23 AM Reply

    Is it 2 premium canned sardines in olive oil… or two premium cans of sardines?

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      July 21, 2020 at 1:29 PM Reply

      Frank, two cans :)

      • Frank Ball

        July 21, 2020 at 1:35 PM Reply

        Thanks.. Can’t wait to try! Love your work!

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