Sardines with Kale and Pasta from the American Institute for Cancer Research


In its ongoing effort to promote healthy, cancer-preventive lifestyle choices, the American Institute for Cancer Research puts together dishes from their test kitchen that are both nutritious and delicious. This week's entry is sardines with kale and pasta.

Want a classic Mediterranean treat? Try sardines, greens and pasta. Says the AICR:

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.

All recipes offered by the AICR have been vetted and approved by a registered dietitian (RD).

Sardines with Kale and Pasta

  • 8 kale leaves, stems removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 ½ tsp. olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼-½ 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 ½-inch water until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside.

In large saucepan over medium heat, add oil, garlic, kale and red pepper flakes. 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 throughout.

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

*Note: Sardines canned in olive oil may be used with ½ cup tomato sauce. Cooked fresh sardines may be used with ½ 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.

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