From the AICR Test Kitchen
Week of October 28, 2013
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Sardines with Kale and Pasta

from the
American Institute for Cancer Research

Sardines are said to be a new hip food. They are quickly gaining popularity in the United States because of their great taste and easy preparation. Combine them with delicious greens and pasta of your choosing and you’ll enjoy a classic Mediterranean treat.

Budget-friendly sardines are available fresh or canned in olive oil, mustard sauce and tomato sauce. These little fish are richly flavored and full of omega-3 fat, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. Since they are so low on the food chain and eat plants, not other fish, they don't have the mercury and other toxic load of some seafood. So they are a delicious, safe, healthy seafood option that is too often overlooked.

This recipe calls for sardines packed in tomato sauce, but you can also use those packed in olive oil. (This will result in a little more fat.) Sardines generally come with bones that are soft and easily digested, which is the source of their calcium. In fact, this dish is packed with calcium because kale is also high in this essential nutrient.

If you can find fresh sardines, you may remove the bones by splitting or butterflying them. But you don’t have to debone them. Simply gently rub off the scales, remove the head and innards with a small paring knife and rinse. Then they are ready to cook. One note of caution: If you are using fresh sardines, these little fish can easily spoil if stored too long, even in the freezer. So use them within one or two days. In many parts of the world fresh sardines are wrapped in grape or fig leaves and grilled or fried using olive oil and lemon juice. In countries like Italy and Morocco, such dishes are considered the best of seafood.

Sardines are a great way to have more seafood in your diet. Even if you don’t normally eat sardines, give them a try. You are in for an unexpectedly delicious treat.

Pasta and Sardines

Sardines with Kale and Pasta

  • 8 kale leaves, stems removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 1½ tsp. olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes or to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz. uncooked whole-grain penne cooked according to package instructions (other short or long pasta may be substituted)
  • 12 oz. canned sardines packed in tomato sauce (can sizes typically vary from 3.75 to 4 ounces and larger)*
  • 4 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, finely grated (pecorino may be substituted)


In large covered pot steam kale in 1/2-inch water until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside.

In large saucepan over medium heat add oil, garlic, kale and red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté mixture until kale wilts, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add cooked pasta and stir gently until heated through.

Spoon mixture on four plates and arrange sardines on top. Dust with cheese and serve immediately.

Noted – Sardines canned in olive oil may be used with 1/2 cup tomato sauce. Cooked fresh sardines may be used with 1/2 cup tomato sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 380 calories, 13 g total fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 41 g carbohydrate,
28 g protein, 7 g dietary fiber, 449 mg sodium.

Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

We have contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. Find evidence-based tools and information for lowering cancer risk, including AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, at

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