I came across this old photo of my father, Pino, grilling sardines at our family’s beach house while vacationing in Sicily one summer. I could almost smell the fire and taste the saltiness of the fish, so I decided this would be a wonderful tradition to share with you. The Ferragosto is a national Italian holiday, celebrated in mid-August, where families love to pack up and head to the beaches for vacation. During these summer months, grilled fare is almost always in order since it’s too hot to cook indoors, and Italians are especially fond of grilled food.
My family loves grilled sardines, no matter what time of the year it is. One of our favorite things to do is to make a big wood fire. First we grill the sardines and then when the coals die down, we nestle fresh stuffed artichokes in the embers to cook. Throw in a salad, and you have the makings of a real campfire feast.
Fresh sardines can be hard to come by, but you can also use frozen sardines (available in gourmet markets), or you can substitute them with small Spanish mackerels. If you don’t have a grill, they can also be cooked in a pan under the broiler. If you are grilling them outdoors, ideally you want to use a charcoal fire, but you can use a gas grill. I like using hardwood charcoal.
GRILLED FRESH SARDINES
(Sarde Arrustuti/Sarde alla Griglia)
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes 4 servings.
12 medium fresh sardines, gutted, cleaned, and scaled
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil + 2 tablespoons
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons Italian parsley leaves, finely minced
Fresh ground pepper
1. MAKE THE GRILLING SAUCE: Using a mortar and pestle,smash the garlic with 1 teaspoon of salt until paste-like. Transfer to a small bowl and add 1/2 cup olive oil, oregano, and pepper to taste. Let sit for 1 hour.
2. GRILL THE SARDINES: Prepare a charcoal fire. When the coals are covered in gray ash, spread them out evenly. If you are using a gas grill, heat the grill on high. Oil the grilling grates. Make 3 shallow slits along on each side of the sardines and coat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place the sardines on the hot grill and cook about 3 minutes, until slightly charred. Using a metal spatula, flip the sardines over and brush on top with some of the grilling sauce, cook another 2 to 3 minutes, until charred on the other side. Transfer to a platter and immediately brush with the grilling sauce. Serve with the remaining sauce and lemon wedges.