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Sicilian Pasta with Sardines

Serves 4

Sardines, fennel, raisins, and pine nuts blend harmoniously in this classic Sicilian dish. A specialty of the island’s capital, Palermo, it is traditionally made with wild fennel from the mountain regions and fresh sardines that are boned and pan-fried by locals. Since the nutrient-packed little fish can be difficult to find here, this version uses the canned variety. Splurge on a top-quality brand. With a taste of the sea, the mountains, and the sun, this iconic dish represents the best of the Sicilian table.

 

1 medium bulb fennel

Salt, to taste

14 ounces bucatini or thick spaghetti

3 tablespoons pine nuts (or use almonds)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

3 cans (4 ounces each) sardines packed in water, drained

¼ cup golden raisins

Extra olive oil (for sprinkling)

1 lemon, cut into wedges (for serving)

 

1. Remove the tops from the fennel, halve it lengthwise, and slice crosswise into thin pieces.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the bucatini or spaghetti for 8 minutes or until it is tender but still has some bite. Dip a heatproof measuring cup into the pasta water and remove ¾ cup.

3. Meanwhile, in a large dry skillet, toast the pine nuts or almonds, shaking the pan constantly, for 3 minutes or until aromatic. Remove from the pan.

4. Set the skillet over medium-high heat and heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the fennel, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until the vegetables soften.

5. Reserve a few whole sardines for garnish. Add the remaining fish to the skillet. Continue to cook, breaking up the sardines with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes.

6. Add the raisins, pine nuts or almonds, pasta, and pasta cooking water. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, carefully folding the pasta into the sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if you like.

7. On each of 4 deep bowls, arrange pasta and the remaining whole sardines. Sprinkle with olive oil. Garnish with fennel fronds and lemon wedges.

By Claudia Catalano. Originally published in The Boston Globe.