Linguini with mackerel and sage

A recipe by Rod Benson

If you’ve known me for a while you’ll be aware that I post a lot of my food photos on social media. There are a few recipes that I make again and again, and this is one of them. When I made it last night, and released a photo into the wild, people asked for the recipe. So here it is!

My recipe below is similar to a sardine recipe in one of my favourite cookbooks by the wonderful Allesandro Pavoni and Roberta Muir, A Lombardian Cookbook: From the Alps to the Lakes of Northern Italy (Lantern, 2015). Find it here on Amazon. But in my opinion enough differences have crept into the dish over the past few years for me to call this my own.

    • Serves 6
    • Preparation time: 10 minutes
    • Cooking time: 30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

Pasta:

    • 500g gluten-free linguini
    • 2 tablespoons sea salt

Sauce:

    • 100ml olive oil
    • 50g butter
    • 1 white onion, finely chopped
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 345g mackerel fillets (drained if using tinned mackerel)
    • 1  1/2 tablespoons dry white wine
    • handful Continental parsley, finely chopped
    • handful oregano, whole leaves only
    • 100ml pouring cream

Fried sage leaves:

    • 200ml canola oil
    • 18 sage leaves

Toasted breadcrumbs:

    • 50g butter
    • 1 cup fine fresh gluten-free breadcrumbs
    • 1 clove garlic, halved and bruised
    • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
    • extra lemon zest, finely grated
    • extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
    • Maldon salt flakes

METHOD

Place a large heavy-based saucepan of water on the stove and bring to simmer, ready for the pasta.

For the fried sage leaves, heat the oil in a small heavy-based frying pan over a high heat and add the leaves, frying for 30 seconds. I prefer to do this in two batches as the initial release of water from the leaves can be significant. Quickly remove the leaves with a skimming ladle and set aside on absorbent paper. Take care as the leaves will be fragile. You can reuse the oil — it will have a lovely faint herbal taste.

To get the sauce started, heat the oil and butter in a heavy-based frying pan over low heat. Add the onion, salt and pepper and cook, covered, for 20 minutes until very soft but not caramelised. If the onion starts to colour, add a little warm water and gently stir.

To make the toasted breadcrumbs, melt the butter in a small heavy-based frying pan, add the breadcrumbs and garlic, and stir over a medium heat for 3 minutes or until the breadcrumbs turn golden and crisp. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon zest and salt flakes, discard the garlic, and set aside.

Add the mackerel fillets to the onion mixture, increase the heat to high and cook for 5 minutes, stirring well and pressing with a fork or wooden spoon until the fillets are completely broken up. Stir in the wine.

Bring the pan of water to the boil and add the salt (all of it — for pasta cooking, you want the water to taste like the sea). Add the pasta and cook for 7 minutes or until almost al dente. If you’re not using gluten-free pasta, cooking time may be a little shorter.

Stir the herbs and cream through the sauce. Lift the pasta out of the water and add to the sauce. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and toss well to coat. Allow to stand for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the pasta absorbs some of the liquid and cooks through.

Divine the pasta and sauce among shallow bowls and sprinkle liberally with the toasted breadcrumbs. Add some finely grated lemon zest, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, add the salt flakes and sage leaves, and serve.

NOTE: You can use fresh mackerel fillets, but I find it easier to use King Oscar skinless and boneless mackerel fillets in olive oil. For this recipe I use three 115g tins.