12 fresh sardines, about 100g each
2 small yellow peppers
2 small red peppers
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
200g ripe small plum tomatoes, halved (I used some from the Isle of Wight)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
125g stale Italian bread, such as ciabatta or focaccia, cut into bite-size pieces
Good handful fresh basil leaves
1. Hold the sardines under cold running water and use your fingers to push off the scales and gut them (or ask your fishmonger to do this). Pat them thoroughly dry with kitchen paper and scatter them with sea salt. Set aside while you make the salad.
2. If you are grilling the peppers, halve them and place under a hot grill until the skins have blistered and blackened. Leave to cool in a bowl covered with cling film – the steam helps to loosen the blackened skin. Once cooled, remove the skin, stalk and seeds and cut the flesh into slices. Return the peppers to the bowl, keeping the juices that have collected. If you don’t want to cook the peppers, simply remove the stalk and seeds and slice them.
3. Make the dressing. Combine the extra-virgin olive oil with the red wine vinegar, and season to taste. Add the tomatoes, onion, capers and bread to the bowl of peppers, drizzle with the dressing and gently toss everything together. Set aside for 20 minutes, so the bread can soak up the dressing.
4. Heat a ridged griddle pan over a high heat (or preheat a barbecue). When it is smoking hot, cook the sardines – in batches as necessary – for just 4 minutes, turning halfway. Don’t add any oil, as sardines are best when dry-fried. Remove from the heat and allow to rest for 2 minutes, so that they become extra sweet and tender.
5. Fold the basil leaves into the panzanella, divide between plates and serve alongside the sardines.
- Wine note: Stick to the simplest, freshest, crispest white you can – perhaps an Italian Pinot Grigio.