When I unexpectedly found myself in M&S with Mr R recently my mind went absolutely blank, and then it went berserk. I have barely set foot in any shops apart from my corner shop in over six months and my brain was in overdrive. I could buy anything I wanted, right there, right then. No planning ahead, no mad stockpiling via Ocado, I could just go to a shelf and pick something off. I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself. This brain freeze feeling must surely have been felt by many a 1940s housewife when the first self-service Co-op opened in Southsea.

That’s me on the right – so many tins of fish, so hard to choose…

In the end I got a couple of leeks and some sardines. I got the sardines because I’d never seen fresh sardines for sale in a supermarket and they were filleted. MIRACULOUS!

Sophia’s recipe for this fish dish is in both cookbooks of hers that I own. This one is easy to get hold of…

and it is lovely, but it’s Eat With Me that I am truly passionate about. My friend Matthew Coniam once tipped me off that he’d seen a reasonably priced copy of this on the interwebs and I snapped it up for £6.99. I’ve just had a look and I can only find one copy anywhere for sale and that is £40. If you see one of these in a charity shop, GET IT.

Another of Sophia’s cookbooks, In the Kitchen With Love is even harder to get, can’t see a single one for sale anywhere on the net.

This is on my MOST WANTED list because Sophia not only knows what she is doing in the kitchen, she knows how to write about it too. My theory is this, she’s ace and she is the most beautiful food wrangler there is. If you don’t believe me, check out this blog post which is full of pix of Sophia and food. Here’s my absolute favourite.

Anyhow, back to the sardines. These are super fun to make, and they look so cute on the plate.

I think these would be nice as dinner party appetisers, but as there is no hope in sight of dinner parties during this pandemic, I just made a batch of these for me, myself and I. I had 3 for dinner one night, 3 the next night and froze the rest. I think these will be lovely working from home lunchtime treat with a big salad. I will report back on how well they freeze.

Sophia’s own words follow on how to make these dinky sardine roll-ups – after making the Party Pink Pie I feel I should only be eating DINKY food at the moment.

Sophia Loren’s Sardines a Beccafico

This is a Sicilian dish I am simply crazy about.  First of all, because sardines (which we call blue sardine in Italy because of the blue scales and flesh) are extremely tasty whether they are fried or baked; but especially in the way I am about to describe, known as warbler style (called after those little birds much appreciated by gourmets).  As there is such an abundance of sardines, and they cost so little, many people are inclined to snub them, but I don’t agree. Those people are missing out sadly.

Slit the sardines in half through the belly, leaving them intact down the back (as you also do for frying) of course you will want to cut off the head and remove the long backbone; wash the sardines, and after separating them open them flat like a book and leave them to drain.

Meanwhile prepare the filling: for each pound of sardines heat in a pan 4 tablespoonfuls of olive oil with 3-4 tablespoonfuls of breadcrumbs.  When the breadcrumbs are crisply fried put them in a bowl and mix in a tablespoonful of sultanas (carefully washed and dried), a tablespoonful of pine nuts, a handful of chopped parsley, a pair of washed and chopped anchovy fillets, and a dash of pepper.

Mix them all thoroughly but with not too heavy a hand.  Then scoop out a spoonful of the paste and spread it on the open sardine

which you then roll around the filling so as to form an involtino (little roll), and spear with a toothpick to hold it together.  Repeat the operation for each sardine.  Finally, you put them all into a well-oiled baking dish; another sprinkling of breadcrumbs, a trickle of olive oil, then into a moderate oven for half an hour.

These were SO DELICIOUS! I had three, and then the next night I popped three in my tiny singleton’s enamel dish and stuck them in the oven for a few minutes with foil over the top. I am so pleased that I have 2 x lunches worth of these in my freezer for the WINTER that is fast approaching. What treats these will be.

Thanks Sophia! My lockdown hair is so long now I could probably do this hairdo…

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