I apologize for silence these last several days. I did something unusual; I took a vacation.
I had my computer with me, but it slept the way I did. I did much more – swam for hours in the Mediterranean, absorbed just enough sun, sipped a few cocktails as the sun set, and took in the excitement and bling! bling! of Monte Carlo. The Cote d’Azur is another world; I adopted it easily!
Now, I’m delighted to be home, and while I miss the sun and far niente, I’m so happy to be in my office overlooking my garden. After having been away for nearly two months, it reminds me of what the word steadfast really means – despite a certain neglect (only the owner and the person who planted can REALLY pay attention to the fine points of a garden, I feel…!) the flowers are blooming, the grass is growing, the herbs are scenting the air, the fig tree is ripening fruit, and the pears and apples are larger than ever.
I returned from my mini-vacation absolutely inspired – to grill eggplant, stuff zucchini blossoms, make rose-water and pistachio-flavored ice cream (Roberto Francia, owner of Arlequin Gelati in Nice, offers this inspired combination), but more than anything, to grill sardines.
And so, that is what I did last evening. Sardines are a perfect fish, and none is easier to prepare. I built a fire in the barbecue and when the coals were hot, I set the grill over it so it would be blistering when I laid out the firm, silvery fish. As the heat cooked their firm, fatty meat – protected by skin and scales – it also cleaned them so that by the time they are cooked –about 4 minutes on each side – they are not only succulent and tender, but ready to put on the plate.
Sometimes I put fresh sage on the fire to smoke the sardines; this time, I did nothing but season them with salt and pepper. They were perfect, enjoyed under the Norman night sky. No, the Mediterranean wasn’t lapping at our feet, but we enjoyed this taste of the sun and the sea nonetheless!
MEMORY OF THE COTE D’AZUR – SIMPLE GRILLED SARDINES
SOUVENIR DE LA COTE D’AZUR – SARDINES GRILLEES, TOUT SIMPLEMENT
This is so simple it’s hardly a recipe. There are a million things you could add – sardines can take strong flavors, so you might make a garlic and pepper-rich vinaigrette, or strew them with minced parsley, lemon zest and garlic, or even serve them with a red pepper chutney. But sometimes, simple is best.
I suggest serving a summer cabbage salad dressed with apple cider vinegar and garnished with flat-leaf parsley alongside these sardines. That is what I did, and there wasn’t a bit left of either!
1 pound (500g) fresh sardines, rinsed and chilled
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, cut lengthwise into 8 pieces
Fresh sage, for garnish
1. Build a medium fire in the barbecue. When the coals are red and dusted with ash, set the grill over them to heat
2. When the grill is hot, set the sardines on the grill and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn them and cook until the meat is translucent through, an additional 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Transfer the sardines to a platter. Squeeze several pieces of lemon over them, then season generously with salt and pepper. Garnish the platter with the remaining lemon, and the sage, and serve immediately.