This is one of my favorite fallback recipes when I’m short on time, light on cash, and I need to source all of the ingredients from a basic supermarket. The sardines, while possibly a deterrent to some, are the linchpin in this dish. And once mixed into the pasta, they add a briny blast of flavor that brings together the sweet leeks and toasted crumbs.
- Bring a large, covered pot filled with 1 gallon of water to a boil over a high flame.
- Slice the leeks in half lengthwise then into ½-inch slices to produce half moons. Clean the leeks by submerging them completely in cold water, agitating, and lifting them out to a waiting strainer. Repeat as necessary until free of any sand.
- Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium flame. Add the leeks and 1½ teaspoons of salt and cook, stirring frequently until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and continue cooking until almost completely evaporated.
- When the pasta water comes up to a boil, add ¼ cup salt and the box of pasta, cooking it for 2 minutes less than the al dente directions on the box.
- Strain the pasta and add it to the leeks along with the tinned sardines and their juices. Cook the pasta, stirring gently (the sardines should break up but should not be completely annihilated), adding a few tablespoons of water as necessary until the pasta is just al dente and the water has evaporated so that the sauce sticks to and coats the pasta. Add the parsley, juice from the lemon, and a healthy grinding of fresh black pepper and stir to wilt.
- Serve garnished with the fried bread crumbs.
- Slowly heat the bread and olive oil in a small pot over a very low flame, stirring frequently to make sure all of the bread is submerged.
- Watch the bread closely as the oil begins to heat and remove the pieces to a waiting paper towel one by one as they reach a deep golden brown. Too dark and they will be burnt and bitter.
- Once cool, gently crush the pieces, discarding any untoasted white centers. Spread in a thin layer over paper towel to absorb any excess oil and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt.
- When ready to serve, add the zest of one lemon and mix.
- The leftover oil can be used to cook with or reserved to fry future batches of bread crumbs.