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Sardine Pasta recipe, Sicilian Style

It was seven in the morning and the temperature was fantastic in Trapani, my hometown. I woke up with the house flooded with the smell of freshly brewed coffee coming out from my mother’s kitchen. Just like a true Italian, she prepares our coffee with the traditional espresso machine every morning. What a perfect way to wake up to the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee.

I opened the window, the air was fresh and crispy before the sunrise. I heard the pulsing chirp of crickets started before the sun arises. A sign is that today would be a wonderful day. My mother Agnese was preparing breakfast in the kitchen. She was waiting for me while adding the locally produced millefiori honey to her coffee. With her age, she no longer uses sugar or artificial additives. I greeted her good morning (Buongiorno Mamma), her usual replies 'What would you like for breakfast?". I always had to be mindful of how to answer this question to an Italian mother. Never say that you are hungry, or you have a certain craving, or you will end up sitting down in the kitchen until lunch. My answer is always the same "Just coffee and it’s fine for me" and I would continue to ignore any other questions avoiding the morning overfeeding session.

On the kitchen table, I saw a basket full of biscuits. In Sicily we make more than 1000 different types of traditional biscuits. This morning was the inciminiati, an exceptionally good biscuits completely covered with sesame. Also known as the queen biscuits, light in taste and yet explosive sesame flavor which can be real addictive.

After breakfast, we decided to go to our regular fishmonger Mr Mariano. We walked through the fish shop stacked with lots of wooden boxes filled with any grace of God, Swordfish, Sicilian red prawns, fresh octopus, and live lobsters. The shop is fill with amazing Mediterranean seasonal fresh seafood. The smell of the sea from the fresh seafood made me wonder what I should have for lunch. Fish for the “poor” in the Mediterranean market caught my attention. The Sardines! There is no Sicilian who does not love pasta with sardines! This is a mouth-watering first course with an intense flavor.

Let us go together to discover the traditional recipe of

Sicilian Sardine Pasta

List of the ingredients you need for Sicilian Sardine Pasta are:

  • 1 bunch of wild fennels (chop them to your preferred size)

  • 300 g fresh sardines

  • 4 salted anchovies

  • 1 onion (chopped finely)

  • 2 cloves of garlic (chopped finely)

  • 30 g raisins

  • 25 g pine nuts

  • 1 sachet of saffron

  • Extra virgin olive oil (just the right amount)

  • Salt (to taste)

  • Pepper (to taste)

  • 100 ml fresh tomato sauce (optional)

  • Breadcrumbs

List of Equipment Needed:

  • Oven dish

  • Flat pan to stir-fry

  • Tall pan to boil the pasta

For pasta, a better choice for this recipe is Bucatini or Ziti for the more traditional approach. My father, Vincenzo, loved a type of pasta called daisies.

Usually, for this Sicilian recipe, we recommend about 320 g of pasta to serve four people. If you want to bring to the table the true culture of Sicily, better to be more abundant. Sicilians, as you know, are used to eat a lot and want to have generous portions in front of them!

Cooking Steps:

  • First, you need to arrange the sardines. In fact, this is the important as it requires the most attention. Remove the head, entrails, and center bone. Open each sardine completely like a book or butterfly style. If you think that you cannot clean the sardines in this way you can ask the fishmongers to help to have them already cleaned. This cleaning process is difficult as fresh Sardines' meat is very tender. I am sure that your friendly fishmonger is a pro on cleaning them and will be happy to get them ready and clean to be cook.

  • Before cooking, rinse the sardines under running tap water. Once they are clean, dab them with an absorbent kitchen towel to eliminate any excess water.

  • Take the wild fennel, wash it well, and add to the boiling water for about ten minutes. Remove the wild fennel from the pan and set it aside. Do not throw away the fennel water as you will need to cook your pasta with later.

  • Soak the raisins in water. Once the raisins expanded, drain them well.

  • Take a pan and heat it on a stove. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil onto the pan, then add chopped onion, one or two cloves of garlic and the salted anchovies and stir fry.

  • In a glass of water put the sachet of saffron and then add the saffron water into the pan.

  • Add the roasted pine nuts and the raisins that you have drained. Cook for a minute.

  • Add sardines and chopped fennel onto the pan. My father, Vincenzo, favored his fennel blended and not in pieces, so my mother needs to blend it so as to make him happy.

  • Add Salt and pepper to taste. Be mindful of the salt as the sardines already have an intense flavor.

  • Cook the pasta and drain it al dente.

  • Put the pasta in the pan along with the dressing.

  • There are two ways where you can serve them. In Western Sicily, the stir-fried sardines would be placed in between the pasta layers (like a lasagna). In Eastern Sicily, the pasta and sardines are toss together.

  • Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.

  • Spread olive oil thoroughly on the oven dish, then add the breadcrumbs to the bottom of the oven dish.

  • Scoop the first pasta mix onto the oven dish and spread more breadcrumbs. Add on more pasta on top of the breadcrumbs. Repeat the step until the whole oven dish is full and pour the last layer of breadcrumbs on the top.

  • As a Trapani tradition, pasta with sardines is serve seasoned with saffron which gives the typical sunshine yellow color.

The pasta could be serve on the spot or served au gratin in the oven for 15 minutes with the addition of breadcrumbs sprinkled on top and bottom of the oven pan.

Buon Appetito!

Chef Giovanni Mannino

Executive Chef

Gattopardo Ristorante di Mare

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