Elizabeth David's anchovy gratin from Summer Cooking - a book I carry in my handbag all summer long - made with fresh butterflied sardine fillets in their (elusive) place is what I would eat for the rest of this summer if I could get my hands on them more easily. A simple, impressive dish to swoon over with its heatwave-friendly preparation time. It's fishy, but not over-poweringly so, coaxing out the best in an oily, tricky little fish that divides like few others. As with all Elizabeth David recipes attention to detail matters: the recipes are, generally, brief, but every word - every single comma - is chosen for its impact. The key is to prep the breadcrumbs early. The recipe below is hers, word for word, with my additions and thoughts added where appropriate. A stunner of a dish.
Elizabeth David's sardine gratin
"Several hours before they are to be cooked prepare a cupful of [fresh] breadcrumbs mixed with a cupful of chopped parsley, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and enough olive oil to moisten."
(With a garage full of garlic I upped it considerably and I'd recommend this heavy-handed approach. I also added a teaspoon of fennel seeds, some pine nuts, currants, and sliced green olives then doused the crumbs with white wine and lemon juice as well as oil, just to lighten the whole. The fennel seeds are, I think, essential but all else can be left by the wayside.)
"Arrange the boned [and butterflied] anchovies [sardines] in a shallow oiled fireproof dish. Put the breadcrumb mixture on the top, add more oil, and then cook them [for 30 mins] in a fairly hot oven."
(We criss-crossed anchovies over the sardines before scattering the crumbs and, served with freshly dug then boiled teeny tiny potatoes on the side, it was superb. Superb.)