Little fish on my porch: Grilled sardines, very sweet peas and salsa verde

A plate of shimmering sardines, roasted fennel, figs and pecorino - a rough recipe.

I like to eat on our round white table outside in the driveway, under the brick arches, with friends and family popping in and out. I fill the table with different things. At the moment it’s some sort of seared or fried small fish, summer tomatoes with fresh white cheese, grilled peaches with flakey salt and olive oil. I’ve also recently been enjoying homemade flatbreads lathered with fresh tzatziki (a recipe for another time).

Today I pulled up to the fishmonger hoping he would have fresh sardines (they’re super seasonal so getting them fresh depends on the weather). John didn’t disappoint. Perched up in the window, I could see a tray of the shiny fish sitting there. Little fish (headless, sadly) surrounded by big whole fish and fresh fillets piled high. I bought half a kilo, some fresh peas from the grocer next door and made lunch for my sister and I.

Seared sardines are best with a tangy salsa verde made with fresh herbs, anchovies and capers. I like to add podded sweet peas to the green sauce. The idea is to pound your salsa ingredients together before stirring through plenty of extra virgin olive oil, finely chopped shallots, red chilli, the podded peas and then your acid - I use lots of lemon juice along with a little white wine and sherry vinegars.

With an old, sad looking bulb of fennel I made a roasted fennel salad with a little rocket, sliced figs and chunks of pecorino. I also spooned a little honey over some ricotta that needed to be finished. Everything to be eaten with chunks of bread.

I’ll leave you with those rough recipes below. And with a cute photo of my washing drying behind our lunch on the porch. X

For the sardines, what you will need -

  • 10-15 fresh sardines, gutted and cleaned

  • Olive oil

For the salsa verde, what you will need -

  • 1 large clove of garlic

  • Handful of parsley (about 25g), washed

  • Handful of basil (about 25g), washed

  • 2 fillets of anchovy

  • 1 tbsp capers

  • 1 shallot, finely diced

  • Half a red chilli, finely sliced

  • 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar

  • 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar (if you don’t have sherry vinegar that is fine)

  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

  • 500g fresh green peas, podded

  • Extra virgin olive oil

The salsa verde process/guide -

You can add any green herbs you enjoy, like oregano and chives, and you can omit the anchovies if you’d prefer. You should also taste along the way and adjust this template to your liking.

  • Pick the basil and parsley off their stems and roughly chop them with a sharp knife

  • In a mortar and pestle pound the garlic with a touch of flakey salt, followed by the anchovies and capers

  • Blanch the podded peas in boiling water for 1 minute. Once ready shock them in a bowl of ice water (you want the peas to retain a nice bite, we don’t want shriveled up peas for this)

  • Now add the chopped herbs into the mortar and stir them through the garlic/caper paste, before scraping in the shallots, chilli and podded peas. It should look like a rough mess.

  • Add in a little fresh black pepper and stir in the extra virgin olive oil to loosen the herbs until you get a consistency that you like. I like mine somewhere between plump and just liquid enough that it glides off the spoon and onto the sardines/bread/cheese etc.

  • Sharpen the herb sauce now with the lemon juice and vinegars, but don’t throw them all in at once! Rather, taste and then taste again to get the acidity level that you enjoy. I usually add lots of lemon juice/vinegar.

The sardine process -

  • Season the sardines inside out with salt

  • Heat a heavy cast-iron or non stick pan over high heat. When the pan is hot add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and carefully lay your sardines in, belly side down. After about 20 seconds lower your heat to medium and cook the fish for about 2 minutes, undisturbed, until they are nicely browned, caramelized around the edges and you can easily turn them over with tongs (tip: don’t touch the fish at all after you lay them in the pan. I know it’s hard, just let them do their thing until the two minutes are over!). Now carefully flip the sardines and cook for another 2 minutes, until just done.

  • Gently place the sardines on a plate and top with the deep green salsa you made earlier.

You can also make the fennel salad if it excites you like it does me -

Trim and slice 2 bulbs of fennel into centimetre thick pieces. Place the slices in a tray with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and salt to taste. Roast in a hot 200 degree oven until soft and golden around the sides. Cool the fennel and then toss it with a bunch of rocket, 2-3 sliced figs and big shards of pecorino romano. Dress with olive oil, salt and any of the leftover juices in the roasting pan.