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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Catching Mediterranean sardines for lunch

A small wooden shed holds nets that are lowered  into the sea to catch sardines near the mouth of the Po River off Ravenna, Italy.

Maybe it’s my Norwegian heritage or perhaps it’s my love of everything to do with the sea, but I adore the fish many others seem to avoid.
Sardines are one of those fishes and their anchovy cousins are another.
But I never knew how or where they were caught until my cruise last month in the southern Mediterranean.
I was up at the crack of dawn when the Crystal Serenity approached the port for Ravenna, Italy, where we subsequently went ashore. As we cruised in I saw in the darkness  what I  presumed to be some kind of offshore oil rig. But as dawn brightened the scene I saw similar wooden sheds on nearby piers with a footbridge extending into the sea,  connected with a device to lift and lower nets. Early that morning men were pulling in what appeared to be fine mesh nets wriggling with their catch.
When we went ashore to the customs and immigration building I asked about what I’d seen and discovered we were at the mouth of Po River and the fishermen were catching sardines — something done here for centuries.
Online I discovered the fish — members of the pilchard family—   probably got their name from the island of Sardinia where they are caught in great numbers. Technically, these small silvery fish are related to the herring —  which I met years ago at a herring market in Finland.
Sardines in America usually are found packed in oil in a tin  opened with a key, but I recalled from earlier trips to  the Mediterranean that they are prepared fresh in this part of the world. So from then on I scanned the menus at seaside restaurants at  every port call in search of them.

A lunch of grilled sardines, washed down with a chilled Mythos beer, was heaven on the Greek island of Mykonos.


I found my sardines at a small eatery along the shore of the Greek island of Mykonos, where I ordered them for lunch and washed them down with a good local beer.
My mouth has been watering for sardines ever since. Today I found the following recipe which I’m going to prepare at home and bring for lunch. I know my husband won’t be at all interested  and my coworkers will be likewise repelled. But I can’t wait to have them again.

Sardines for lunch, Ohio style
2 tins sardines in olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves, divided
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, reserve the lemon and cut into 4 wedges
Freshly ground black pepper
 4 (1/2-inch) thick slices crusty bread
1 ripe Hass avocado
Coarse sea salt
 Drain  oil from 1 tin of sardines into a small bowl and set aside. Drain  oil from the other tin into another small bowl and whisk in 1 tablespoon of parsley, vinegar, lemon zest, and black pepper, to taste. Add  sardines, stir to combine and set aside for up to 1 hour.
After 45 minutes, put a rack 3-inches from the broiler and heat the oven to the broiler setting on high. Brush each slice of bread on 1 side with the reserved oil. Put bread, oil side up, onto a  g rack set inside a sheet pan and broil 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.
Halve the avocado and remove the pit. Smash the flesh in each half with a fork.
Spread the avocado evenly onto the toasted bread. Top evenly with the sardines. Pour any remaining dressing on top and garnish with the remaining parsley.

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