The Magical Pantry Pasta I Make When I Have Zero Plan for Dinner

published Nov 17, 2020
Kitchn Love Letters
Sardine Pasta

Consider this your family's new favorite flavor-packed, pantry-friendly pasta dinner.

Serves4 to 6

Prep5 minutes

Cook15 minutes

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Credit: Amelia Rampe

I know I’m not alone here. It’s 5:30 p.m. on a weeknight. You haven’t given a single thought to dinner, but here you are: approaching the evening with no plan, no groceries, and a mild panic settling in. Your eyes scour your pantry, hoping a solution will pop out at you. This is exactly how this recipe came to be.

I pulled a tin of sardines, a can of cherry tomatoes, and a box of spaghetti from my kitchen and made magic. The addition of pasta water to the sauce gives it a glossy, luxurious texture, and it all comes together in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta. Consider this your family’s new favorite flavor-packed, pantry-friendly pasta dinner.

The Case for Canned Cherry Tomatoes

I rarely use fresh tomatoes in the winter. Winter cherry tomatoes aren’t nearly as tasty or sweet as their summer counterparts, and quite frankly, I don’t think they’re worth it. In the fall, I instead stock my pantry with all the canned tomatoes, but canned cherry tomatoes are the real gift of winter. The summer sweetness is locked in and preserved, ready and waiting for whenever you need it. 

In addition to the canned cherry tomatoes, I use chopped anchovies, capers, garlic, and one of my favorite pantry staples: canned sardines. I am a canned sardine evangelist and have written more than one article about how much I love them. Once you try this pasta, I think you’ll be hooked, too.

Sardine Pasta

Consider this your family's new favorite flavor-packed, pantry-friendly pasta dinner.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 2 (4-ounce) cans

    sardines or mackerel

  • 2 tablespoons


  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 2 cloves


  • 2

    canned or jarred anchovy fillets

  • 1 pound

    dried spaghetti

  • 1/4 cup

    olive oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes

  • 2 (14-ounce) cans

    cherry tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more for the pasta


  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, drain 2 cans sardines. Slice them open and remove and discard the bones. Coarsely chop 2 tablespoons capers. Cut 1/2 medium lemon into wedges. Finely chop 2 garlic cloves and 2 anchovy fillets.

  2. Add 1 pound spaghetti to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente, about 9 minutes. Meanwhile, start the sauce.

  3. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic, anchovies, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is softened and the anchovies are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the capers and cook until they begin to pop, about 1 minute.

  4. Add 2 cans cherry tomatoes and their juices and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, stir to combine, and bring to a simmer. Add the sardines, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the pasta is ready.

  5. Using tongs, transfer the pasta to the sauce. Cook over medium heat and gently toss, adding pasta water 2 tablespoons at a time as needed, until the pasta is well coated and glossy with sauce. Taste and season with salt as needed. Serve immediately with the lemon wedges.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 days.