Sicilian Pasta with Sardines
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.