To be honest, I don’t care for sardines much. I’m a fan of blueback fish such as mackerel, horse mackerel and Pacific saury, but not sardine. I like anchovy and oiled sardines though – ah, neither herrings but like kippered! Weird, isn’t it? A restaurant in Palermo, however, changed my preference towards the fish (a bit 😀 ).
Sardines are so plentiful in Sicily, and you couldn’t fully enjoy the local food without sardines there. Among them, Pasta con le Sarde, one of the most famous Sicilian dishes, cannot be missed. I know, I know… yet I was still a bit reluctant to try the pasta when I visited Sicily for the first time….
It turned out, however, BINGO! Maybe because fennel makes the strong fishy taste less and helps the dish mellow along with other ingredients. I LOVE (now at last 😀 ) the unique but harmonious combination of the ingredients: not only the fish and the herb/vegetable but also sweet raisins, crunchy pine nuts and pungent saffron – and maybe salty anchovy as well. I think that’s why I like Pasta con Broccoli, too!
Unfortunately, wild fennel is not available here, so I replaced it with fronds of Florence fennel (cultivated fennel) and added some fennel seeds into the water to cook pasta instead of boiling the fronds in it so that it could enhance fennel flavour in the dish.
Pasta con le Sarde (Pasta chî Sardi in Sicilian) is a specialty of Palermo, and bucatini is traditionally used for this dish as well as Pasta con il Broccoli. The pasta can be found anywhere in Sicily, but there are many regional variations: with tomato (in rosso), without tomato and saffron only (in bianco), with roasted almonds, baked (al forno) etc….
Also, Pasta con le Sarde can be eaten all though the year, however, it is especially eaten well around St Joseph’s Day along with Macco. The saint day usually falls during Lent. That is the reason this meatless pasta with mollica, toasted breadcrumbs (cf. Bucatini con Broccoli) which symbolise sawdust (Joseph was thought to be a carpenter), is served.
(for 2 servings)
for topping: mollica
50 g bugget (stale bread is ideal), finely grated
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 liter water
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp salt
200 g bucatini (I used no.6)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100 g onion, finely chopped
2 fillets of anchovy (3 fillets if small)
20 g raisins
20 g pine nuts
20 g fennel fronds, roughly chopped (big and woody stalks removed)
4 fresh sardines, butterflied and deboned
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
a smidgen (1/32 tsp) of saffron powder
(optional: freshly ground black pepper to taste, fennel frond to garnish)
- For toasted breadcrumbs: heat the oil in a frying pan and add the breadcrumbs to toast on low heat, stirring consistently for 5 minutes or until crisp and brown.
- Pour the water into a large pot with fennel seeds and bring to the boil. Dissolve the tomato paste and saffron powder in 50 cc/ml of the fennel water and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the onion over medium heat until translucent. Put in the anchovy, and break with wooden spoon or such. Add the raisins and pine nuts to toss for a few minutes, then chopped fennel fronds to cook and stir for a minute. Add the sardines and fry until brown both sides. Remove half of the sardines from the pan and set aside. Stir and crush the rest of the sardines with a wooden spoon until fall apart and the mixture is well combined. Pour in the saffron liquid and stir well. Taste and season with the black pepper if necessary (Me personally, better without pepper.)
- In the meantime, bring the fennel water back to the boil. Add in the salt and cook the pasta 1 -2 min short of ‘al dente’ (bucatini no.6 for about 6 min). Retain the cooking liquid for the sauce.
- Transfer the pasta into the sauce and add 150-200 cc/ml pasta cooking water (adjust). Increase the heat to medium-high and stir consistently for 1-2 min or until the liquid dries off (but not too much).
- Plate the pasta. Put the sardine and fennel fronds on top. Sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs over the pasta, and Buon’appetit!
If you have a bottle of arak (just wondering if pastis works as well…?) at home, try with the pasta! I happened to have an Israeli one, and enjoyed it very much – the anise flavoured spirits (with some water) cleansed the fishy taste but still fennel flavour (well, anise flavour actually) remained in my mouth, which was really refreshing and comfortable!
MUST EAT in PALERMO
Bucatini con Sarde @ La Cambusa
La Cambusa is one of my favourite restaurants in Palermo. I go back to the restaurant for the pasta whenever in Palermo. They serve wonderful fish dishes such as of sward fish etc.
Macco, served during winter or up to beginning of spring, and Moscato Passito, dessert wine made from Sicilian native Zibibbo grape, are also nice!
Street Food & Fast Food
Palermo is recognised as the European Capital of Street Food, and it’s in the fifth place in the ‘top ten cities for street food’ ranking published by Virtual Tourist.com. Enjoy the famous traditional delicacies!
- Focaccine con Panelle, crocchè etc @ I Cuochini
A small burger with panelle, a chickpea flour fritter and potato croquet. Theirs are rather small like finder food, so better for small bites.
- Pane con la Milza or Pani cà Meusa (in Sicilian) @ Antica Focacceria San Francesco
A burger stuffed with grated cheese and boiled and fried veal spleen. Normally served with lemon.
- A bit ‘sophisticated’ or ‘frilled’ arancine @ kePalle
A deep fried rice ball stuffed with various fillings. They serve about 40 different types – from classic to variant ones: ragù, pasta and aubergine, chicken curry, spinach & tofu (veg) etc… and even sweet ones – Nutella, chocolate, pistachio!
And for a sweet tooth:
- Brioche con Gelato @ Brioscià
A brioche bun stuffed with gelato/ice cream. Always busy gelateria.