Sardinella, Broccoli, Black Olives, Lemon and Spaghetti

Sardinella, Broccoli, Black Olives, Lemon and Spaghetti, with caramelised onions, garlic and flaked almonds

This Sardinella, Broccoli, Black Olives, Lemon and Spaghetti surprised me. With using so few ingredients sometimes the dish can be absolutely delicious, as is the case here. Especially as the flavours screamed summer – unlike the howling winds outside right now. I’ve been looking for a replacement for canned tuna, and a fish that’s sustainable which this one is, apparently. Besides, with canned tuna the precious levels of Omega 3 drop quite drastically due to the processing. Not so, as far as I’m aware, with the other dark, oily canned fish. So, this small can should award my system with almost 90%, within each portion, of my RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance), and that’s over two days. Not bad for a product that’s so affordable. And tasty. I’m also hoping to develop this into a dip with added cannellini beans and sour cream, that should help to give more shape and texture. And this could be served with chicken instead for those who don’t like fish. As for a vegetarian sub I think small cubes of pan-fried tofu, cooked until they’re nicely golden, would be just great. I’m also going to try this with courgette/zucchini spaghetti, which is made by slicing long ‘julienne’ strips of courgette (sometimes referred to as ‘shoe string’ or ‘shoestring fries’), which I would then pan-fry until they start to catch on base of pan. That should be a delicious sub for pasta.

When I was pondering what to have for sups on Sunday night, for the following night, I checked into several of my cupboards to see what needed to be used up. A forlorn lemon that I’d used for half of its zest – they then go off all too quickly – and a solitary can of sardinellas, a small type of pilchard. So, I decided to go simple and buy in broccoli and pitted black olives. Really had to restrain myself from buying any more cream, neither single/light nor sour, as I’ve gone through so much of it recently – regardless of how much I like cream and lemon together. And I had to prise myself away from grabbing a beefsteak tomato to caramelise over low heat. This really doesn’t need to go the tomato-based route. Completely forgot to buy dried oregano, and that didn’t matter as fresh parsley is even better. What was even more joyous is that broccoli and onions are on special offer at one of my local stores. Such good timing. This little dish is loaded with vitamins and nutrients, including the flaked or slivered almonds – yes, I’d love to use pine kernels/pine nuts in this but, have you seen the price of them over here in the UK?!? If I ever needed to punish myself all I’d have to do is to go to the other store and stand and stare at the price of them! It’s enough to start palpitations. So, a really healthy, summery dish that should do wonders for my system right now. What with bags under my eyes and looking so gaunt, after a long winter, chances are people think I’m heading off to check in to the nearest rehab! Instead of simply out food shopping – hurry up, Spring!

Update: I’ve made this countless times since. It’s become my go-to recipe of late. The last time I substituted garden or English peas for the broccoli, and as I couldn’t get lemons I went with almost the same quantities of lime instead, without adding dried oregano. Parsley works better with the lime. Equally as delicious with peas and lime!

Sardinella, Broccoli, Black Olives, Lemon and Spaghetti


  • olive oil
  • 160g (5.64 oz) x broccoli florets, cut the florets, then cut them several times more to get them as small as possible and soak for 15 minutes in cold water OR substitute with garden peas (even easier to cook)
  • up to 300g (10.58 oz) x onions, sliced in half, peeled, root end trimmed, slice each half as if going to slice into into quarters but not all the way through to the root, turn and slice crossways into thin strips
  • 1 x dried bay leaf, split
  • 4 x plump garlic cloves, trimmed, peeled and sliced
  • couple of small pinches x cayenne pepper, less or more to personal taste
  • up to 1 x whole lemon zest, start with ½ of the lemon zest and add more to personal taste OR almost the same of lime if using peas (I went with a little less lime and no oregano)
  • 1 x lemon, juice of half to begin with and add more if necessary (pour juice through a sieve to collect unwanted pips)
  • 1 x 125g or 90g drained weight (4.40 or 3.17 oz drained) can sardinellas in oil, split apart and their bones removed and discarded (a small tin or can of sardines in oil is a good sub or even better, fresh sardines)
  • single/light cream, a glug is sufficient but add to personal taste (If I’m using oregano I prefer this without cream)
  • cooking liquor, when the pasta is nearly cooked grab a couple of tablespoons of the liquor for the sauce
  • up to 12 x pitted black olives, sliced
  • 2 x large handfuls flaked almonds, dry roasted over very low heat or added to the sardinellas (see photo below) OR pine nuts
  • seasoning, both sea salt and black pepper
  • fresh parsley, finely chopped or snipped before serving OR up to 1 x teaspoon dried oregano if parsley isn’t available
  • smoked paprika, for serving – optional

Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.


  • Put a saucepan on electric heat No 2 (out of 6) with a little oil, shake excess water off the broccoli florets and add them to the pan. Plonk on a lid and leave for about 10 minutes, then stir them through, reducing heat if necessary. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes but not beyond cooking them all the way through. After that time take off heat and set aside.
  • Put a heavy-based saucepan on heat No 3 to begin with. When pan is hot add a little oil and the onions with the bay leaf. Put on a lid and cook for about 10 minutes, keeping an eye on them. Reduce heat to No 2 if necessary. After about 20 minutes add a splash of cold water and keep off the lid to allow them to caramelise, reducing heat even further if need be. When really nicely golden push them to the sides of pan and add a little more oil if necessary.
  • Put on sufficient lightly salted cold water and cook the pasta of choice, following the pack’s instructions. I’d give the pasta 1 minute less.
  • Add the sliced garlic to the onions and up the heat to No 2. Get those a soft golden glow and nicely soft, turning them over at least once. Push to the sides and add the cleaned fish and allow those to settle.  The flaked almonds can be added now as well. Sprinkle over the cayenne and most of the lemon zest (I add the rest just before serving). Turn the fish over to get a little colour, but don’t over cook them. Add the lemon juice and up the heat a little to reduce to a syrup. If using single/light cream then pour in a glug of that as well (when I’m using dried oregano I prefer this sauce without cream).
  • Before reheating the broccoli cut in it into even small pieces as it’s easier to eat with spaghetti that way. Add it to the sauce, and grab a couple of dessertspoonfuls of the cooking liquor from the nearly cooked pasta. Get them as soft as you like them, then scatter those into the cooked pasta before plating up. Add the onion and fish mixture or keep the fish separate to dress the plate. Add the black olives and sprinkle the flaked almonds over the plate once the pasta has been plated up.
  • Serve with lots of freshly chopped parsley, lemon wedges and smoked paprika.


All photographs within (Todas las fotografías dentro de) Feed the Piglet:
All rights reserved (© Todos los derechos reservados) – Copyright © Johnny H Hepburn


  1. Any oily fish is a delight for me, looks lovely. I’ve eaten pilchards but not sardinellas (knowingly at least). I know what you mean about pine nuts, price would make your hair curl – at least you offset it with the economical fish 🙂 I agree, roll on spring so we can all get a bit more sun- and I can catch some fish! Thanks.


    • – Wow, how fabulous to go fishing. The nearest I’ve got to that was as a kid fishing for sticklebacks, as we called them. Not quite the same thing!
      – Yes, I really need to up the intake of oily fish, and seafood (as in prawns) for that matter.


  2. This time you’ve stumped me. Sardinellas? I did some digging and found it is a family of fishes. Were the ones you were using what I would call sardines – very small fish packed in oil? I’ve also had larger fresh sardines, but usually not in the U.S. I’m guessing the sardinellas differ in location, size and processing??


    • Like sardines they’re small pilchards, so any type of sardine would do instead. I really should’ve made that more clear within text. Fresh sardines, of course, would be even better! Or even pilchards and mackerel.


    • Thanks. I’ve just included using courgette/zucchini spaghetti or ‘shoestring fried’ courgette instead of pasta, as I love courgettes pan-fried until they start to catch on base of pan. I think those flavours would go so well. Especially with a plain green salad.


    • – I suppose so. It’s just stuff in my head – most of which is drivel that’s heavily edited! I wish I could remember exactly how much you would need to eat of canned tuna, as it surprised me at the time.
      – As you probably can buy very fresh sardines you will know how good they are just grilled and served with sea salt, black pepper and lemon wedges. Admittedly, I would still do the lemon-y caramelised onions and olives as a side.


  3. Hmm. Thanks for the info on canned tuna and its nutrient loss through processing. I’m always looking for ways to prepare dishes with little oily fish, too. I think they’re so often overlooked in recipes.


    • – I so wish I could remember the exact amount of canned tuna you would need to eat to achieve the RDA. It’s quite a lot, and really surprised me at the time of reading it.
      – It’s so different in Med countries as they eat so much more fresh fish. Well, I can’t buy much fresh so canned has to do. I’ll definitely be making this again, and hopefully will be able to develop ideas for other recipes, too. Which reminds me, I really must do my one and only tapenade recipe sometime soon.


    • That’s one of my favourites. It’s one of two little Danish bon-bon dishes that I bought several years ago, and one of the few props I use occasionally. Really nice to have them for chutneys and relishes.


  4. I love sardines, though I never had sardinella. I’m sure I would like those as well. I have some sardines that need to be used, so I’ll use them to make this dish soon. 🙂


    • – They’re very similar. What I especially like about this particular brand is that their scales have been removed. Here, in the UK, sardines are generally sold with bones and scales. Call me fussy but I don’t like to eat either.
      – Do hope the recipe works out for you.


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