There's no snobbery about preserved food in Spain, where nothing goes into a tin or a jar unless it's the best. From anchovies and sardines to peppers, the season's top produce is put under glass or metal to prolong its use-by date, then traded all over Spain. So sardines cured in Cantabria are eaten across the country.
I once met a market gardener in the Basque country who supplied the many Michelin-starred restaurants around San Sebastian. He held some of his best produce back for preserving. It was a small, simple operation, set up on the banks of a creek under a copse of beech trees. For lunch, he opened a jar of his broad-bean confit in olive oil, gently heated the beans in a small saucepan then poured them into a flat ceramic dish. With a little sausage and some bread, it was an excellent meal.
Quality tinned fish also makes a great, quick feed. Cantabrian sardines might be hard to find here, but use any good-quality Spanish or Italian brands for these recipes.
4 ripe tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tbsp dry sherry
4 tinned sardines
Bring water to the boil in a saucepan, remove tomato core and cut a small cross on the bottom of each one.
Gently place tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds then remove and place in iced water. Take tomatoes out, peel then roughly dice and put aside.
Heat oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a low to medium heat, add onion and garlic and cook for about 4 minutes until softened but not coloured.
Add sherry and simmer for 1 minute until it has reduced a little. Add tomato and cook for 5 minutes until soft, then add sardines and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Remove sauce from heat, puree in a blender until smooth and use in recipe below. The sauce is also a great addition to poached fish or pasta with cherry tomatoes and grilled zucchini.
250g tin sardines in oil or tomato
2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 red shallot, thinly sliced
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 slices sourdough bread
Small handful watercress, washed
Drain sardines and place in a bowl. Add tomato, shallot, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.
Season and mix with a spoon but don't break the fish up too much or there won't be enough texture in your sardine salad.
To serve, grill the sourdough slices, place one each on four plates, then spread a spoonful of sardine sauce over each slice. Top toast with watercress and spoon the sardine salad evenly on top. This dish is a fantastic light supper.
LINE-CAUGHT TUNA SANDWICH
425g tin line-caught tuna, drained
4 piquillo peppers, finely diced
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 celery stick, diced
Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Handful fresh basil, chopped
4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 pinch hot paprika
8 slices white sourdough bread, buttered
Combine tuna, peppers, onions, celery, herbs, mayonnaise and paprika, and season to taste.
Divide tuna mix between four slices of bread and top with remaining slices, for a spicier version of a classic tuna-mayo sandwich.