A Perfect Plate of Sardines


Ever since they were first tinned in the 1880s in Europe (it is hard to pinpoint a precise place and date), sardines have been the humble and hurried man’s food. That was fast food before fast food was invented. As anyone versed in the little arts of packaged fish knows, a slice of lemon, some spices, and tomatoes can turn the tiny creatures into decent food.

Yet the canned sardines are the diminished cousins of their free kin. Your Future Imperfect correspondent is visiting Verb.Company’s headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, the Venice of America, from the original Venice. Yesterday, he was offered a superb meal of wild sardines, cooked on the grill in the yard of your writer’s host. It was too delicious not to share with our readers.

It all started with a phone call from Finster Murphy’s, fine seafood purveyors, advising Verb’s Victor Aimi of the arrival of a fresh shipment of sardines. They were responding to a query he had made a month ago, about which he had already forgotten.

The wild sardines came from Spain. A pound of them came to about seven of the sleek, silver animals, much larger than the tiny creatures pressed into the ubiquitous cans. The preparation is quite simple. Our host fired the grill with firewood, which he let burn out slowly until the embers were bright enough for the perfect cooking. He then followed the cookbook instructions, which we provide below.

You rub the sardines with just enough extra virgin olive oil to make them slick. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Put the fish on the grill until they are well marked with the grill marks. That should last from 3 to 4 minutes. Our cook covered the grill for the first two minutes. When one side is done, the fish will come easily off the hot irons. Flip them over to the other side and leave them on the fire for another three minutes or until the shine is gone and the sardines become opaque.

Transfer to a platter, sprinkle with salt, and drizzle with a little more extra virgin olive oil. It serves four. Serve with lemon slices. Grill also one red and one green pepper. If nothing else, it has an important visual role. Food should not only appeal to our palate and sense of smell, but also our eyes.

Bicycle Thieves

Do we pay for breathing? Why, then, should poor people pay for food? In times of despair and when you lose hope in humanity, there is always Italy, and Italians, a country of men, before laws. Or laws at the service of mankind, and not the other way around. In “a country of laws, not of men,” the homeless man caught stealing cheese and sausages worth 5 euros (less than $6.00 at today’s rates) would have been sentenced for theft. Yet the Italian Supreme Court, in a decision that brings out the best of Italy’s humane tradition, dictated that stealing small quantities of food out of hunger and extreme desperation “does not constitute a crime.” The man caught in the unlawful act was not even an Italian citizen, which makes the judges’ sentence even more commendable. The spirit that animates the court, probably as old as the land and its compassionate people, has been reflected time and again in Italian arts, including literature and film. If you have not yet, watch now Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, a masterpiece of Italian cinema’s postwar neorealism. Watch it until the very end, and you will understand why Italians still have a thing or two to teach others, and why—one may hope—future generations may look down at persisting injustice in our present world as appalled as we do now on the cruelties of Talion.

A Reality Show Helps Obese People, and also Science


Why extremely obese people regain the weight they have lost after grueling efforts? A fascinating story in The New York Times tells the drama behind the stars of The Biggest Loser, a reality show in which overweight people shed pounds by working out for hours on end, while also adopting a leaner diet and a new lifestyle. Yet, as a researcher with a weakness for reality shows has demonstrated, most have now reverted to their former weight. The reason? Their metabolism has slowed. This means they are burning fewer calories than before their weight loss. In other words, their own body is fighting to get back the lost pounds. Why certain people settle at a certain weight remains still unclear. If the science behind this is correct, however, it has little to do with willpower. It is almost a Shakespeare drama, in which the body and the soul find themselves on opposite camps. A lesser morale, at least for this writer who dislikes TV and smartphones as devices that impair our capacity for expression and conversation, is that even a show that elicits little admiration from the pickier among us, not only can help people attain impressive challenges but can also help science understand a little more about our own condition.