Last week I went on a little getaway to Death Valley. We were trying to catch that rare window where the weather is just right: somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-something degrees. The heat was already there, though, regularly climbing to 99 degrees in the afternoons, in the shade. Locals will scoff at this and remind you that on their terms, this is merely warm. It’s a relative thing, of course. I went away for lots of reasons – for that dry desert heat, challenging and brutal as it can be around high noon, for spring flowers and the creepy trill of coyotes at night. For remote bars in rural Nevada where the town heartthrob offers impromptu lessons in line-dancing and toothless men try to dance with you. For spring-fed swimming pools frequented by bats in the dusky evenings. For the vastness of the landscape, and what a place as wide open and desolate as that will do for mental clarity. For long walks in frightfully surreal Martian landscapes that really beg the question, How did I get here?
These sardines, on the other hand, do not beg any questions except to be eaten. They are simple, marvelous, fresh and absurdly easy to prepare. They put tinned sardines to shame. In fact, they’re hardly related. (Distant second cousins once removed, at best.) They are roasted at a very high heat in a glaze of olive oil, salt and pepper, and then topped with a simple gremolata. They come out crispy and salty and delicious, balanced by the punch of the garlic and the bright, fresh notes of the parsley and lemon. It’s all you need for a warm spring evening.
This Roasted Sardines with Green Garlic Gremolata recipe is part of the April Seasonal Food Guide.
ROASTED SARDINES WITH GREEN GARLIC GREMOLATA
Inspired by A16: Food + Wine
Serves 4 as an appetizer
1.5 pounds fresh sardines
3 tablespoons flatleaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon minced green garlic bulbs
zest of 1 lemon, plus juice
sea salt + freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
If your sardines have their heads and guts, you’ll want to remove these. First, remove the head. (I yanked! So barbaric.) Next, gently open the belly beneath the rear fin. You can use your fingers. Pull the spine out and remove any guts. Rinse with cool water and pat dry.
To make the gremolata, combine the parsley, minced green garlic and lemon zest + juice. Salt to taste.
Brush both the inside and outside of the fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place them on a lightly greased baking dish and roast for 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and top with the gremolata. Serve immediately.