Single minded: sardinellas on toast with winter tomato

Categories: Expert guidance

Too often, Ed Smith argues, recipes focus on feeding a crowd or cooking as a couple and overlook the joy that can be had in shopping and cooking for one. In a monthly series, he looks to redress this imbalance by taking the best of the Market’s offering and using it to come up with a recipe for one, that leaves minimal leftovers. This time: sardinellas on toast with winter tomatoes and fennel salad

Regular Market Life and website readers might recall that my wife and I disagree about mustard (she doesn’t like it—which is of course wrong). We also have, let’s say, the occasional ‘difference of opinion’ over tinned oily fish: whereas I’d happily eat an entire catering pack’s worth of anchovies as soon as I wake up, I seem unable to sneak even the slightest hint of anchovy past her ‘super taster’ detectors.

It’s no surprise, then, that meal planning for just me feels like one of life’s great pleasures. Rather than being restrictive, the solo shop affords more license for diverse eating than when feeding many mouths; you can try new things or old favourites without having to please any palate other than your own. It is a treat to potter around places like Borough Market when looking just for something that takes one’s fancy.

Which brings me back to my wife’s taste. Or, more specifically, her lack of it. Because on my most recent ‘Single minded’ trip to the Market, I spent a significant amount of time exploring the tinned fish options: from the colourful packs of sardines and mackerel at Le Marche du Quartier, to De Calabria’s fabulously devilled anchovies, and back to the masterful displays of Spanish tins at Brindisa.

Chilled treasure chests
I found it particularly interesting to trawl through the latter’s shelves and chilled treasure chests. You might (should?) be familiar with the Ortiz brand, seen by so many as the bellwether of quality tinned fish thanks to their access to quality fish off the north of Spain, but also their methods of preserving and canning. Other options exist, however, not least the fantastic brined then smoked anchovies from a brand called Nardín (a quite wonderful flavour) and some gigantic salted anchovies in flat vac-packs (my wife would detest these…).

I was drawn, though, to a box of La Brújula Sardinillas—little sardines from the Galician coast that are closer in size to fresh anchovies than normal sardines. I’d never tried them before and, in fact, I still wouldn’t have had I been planning a meal for both of us, or indeed others of whom I wasn’t sure were keen on silvery slithery tinned fish. But it was a ‘me’ day, so I picked up a pack and only then turned my thoughts as to how I would eat them.

Continuing my potter, I found myself at Turnips where winter tomatoes are beginning to pile up. Typically, we are told good tasting tomatoes don’t exist at this time of year. Yet tomato varieties grown in the soil of Sicily suggest otherwise: pink beef heart tomatoes, spherical camone—about the size of a golf ball—and the fantastically knobbled marinda variety are a real treat, with the marinda a particularly engaging mix of umami and acidity. I bought just one as that’s all I’d need and is also totally fine in a market shopping setting. I added a bulb of fennel to my basket as well, as I felt it would add another dimension to a perky winter salad.

I could have stopped there and lay those sardinellas over the tomatoes as if they were anchovies over roast peppers. But I could only think about tinned sardines on toast, which is one of the best solo lunches you can have. (If you are me, not my wife.)