Pasta con le Sarde: A Sicilian Classic
By Gabrielle Badawy
Sicily is full of flavor unlike anywhere else. Ingredients influences from trade have worked its way into just about every pasta dish, including this one. Golden raisins, saffron, fennel, anchovies, pine nuts .. A true Sicilian Classic
Serves 4 | 30 minutes
I learned about this dish before I arrived in Sicily and I was so intrigued to taste it. The presence of saffron and golden raisins indicate the Middle Eastern or Tunisian influence over this dish. I like when love-child recipes emerge from the Mediterranean Seas. The presence of raisins in a savory dish reminds me of my Lebanese grandmother who would stew raisins in meat braises or steam them in couscous, melding savory and sweet.
I like to imagine that the saffron got to Sicily by way of a Tunisian sailor, trading for calamari, volcanic tomatoes, or wine. The sultry scent of saffron is intoxicating and adds a unique aroma to fish stew, rice dishes, or marinades. Rehydrating the saffron in warm liquid is essential. Part of the reason the raisins are so special in this dish is because they are infused with wine drunk on saffron.
The salty-sweet aspect of this pasta dish and how unconventional the ingredients create a perfect and unique pasta dish that embody the Sicilian taste profile. Besides the fennel and the sardines, I’m sure you already have a lot of these ingredients on hand and this dish will be easy to create at home.
White wine - 1/2 cup
Golden raisins - 1/4-1/2 cup soaked
Saffron - a few strands
Olive oil (quality)
Bread crumbs - 1 cup
Ground fennel seed - 2 pinches
Fennel bulb - 1 medium fennel bulb, small dice
Yellow onion - 1 medium onion, small dice
Anchovy fillets (4-6) Or Anchovy paste
Pine nuts - toasted (5 mins in the oven on a sheet tray)
6 whole sardines - debone and cut into pieces
Bucatini or spaghetti - 1 bag
Heat the white wine in a small saucepan until it is simmering, turn the heat off. Then pinch the saffron threads between your fingers in an aim at pulverizing them, add them to the white wine. Pour the raisins into the saucepan and cover with the lid, let them soak for at least 30 mins covered, this can also be done a day in advance and kept in the fridge, I like them very plump.
Heat a pot of water for pasta, add 2 handfuls of salt to the pot, the water should taste salty like the sea…taste it (don’t burn yourself).
Get a large sauce pan or cast iron skillet to medium-high add olive oil, add the onions and fennel bulb, once they start to become translucent add the anchovy fillets. Use a wooden spoon to smash the anchovies up. Cook until browning starts to occur.
Around this time heat a pan with butter (grass-fed is delicious, fatty, and good for you), once the butter stops bubbling, add the bread crumbs and ground fennel, toss until toasted. Turn heat off and put the toasted buttered bread crumbs aside.
Add the soaked raisins and their wine to the sauté pan and mix with the opinions and fennel, use the liquid to scrape anything from the bottom of the pan. Add the fresh sardine flesh and toasted pine nuts, fish will cook in 5-8 mins. Add a ladle of pasta water to the saute pan so help everything cook together and let reduce and thicken the sauce.
Add the pasta into the sauté pan and use tongs to coat it with all the ingredients in the sauce, if the mixture looks dry or sticky add some of the pasta water to loosen it so its glossy. Once you have a well mixed pasta divide it into 4 bowls and garnish with fennel fronds & bread crumbs and a hefty dollop of olive oil.