Sardine & Wild Fennel Pasta

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A classic Sicilian dish from Italian aficionados Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi

16 Dec 2016 |

Sicily is like no other place on earth: the largest island in the Mediterranean, it boasts buzzing markets, stunning beaches and food to die for. In their latest cookbook, authors Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi head to this natural paradise to unearth a dazzling array of local dishes that will reinvigorate your passion for Italian food. To tempt your tastebuds we thought we should share a classic Sicilian dish from the book.

Pasta con le sarde is almost a national dish in Sicily and is found in various forms all over the island. It is indeed a recipe that serves up a rich, splendid plate of history, showing Arab and Italian traditions together. The typical pasta to eat with it is busiate, twirls of pasta made from semolina flour but spaghetti is a good substitute. This recipe is from passionate foodie Caterina, owner of Il Palladio hotel and restaurant in Giardini Naxos. She uses abundant handfuls of wild fennel and local sardines. In the UK, wild fennel grows both in gardens and in the countryside, so do seek it out. If you can’t find it, use fresh dill instead. If you can get hold of the long, Italian pine nuts, they add flavour as well as crunch to the pasta. They are expensive but if you are travelling in Sicily they are widely available at the markets.

Sicily Pasta Pasta con le sarde

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter

1 white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
a little fresh red chilli or a pinch of dried chilli flakes, to taste
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
large handful of wild fennel
5 anchovies in oil, drained
1 heaped tablespoon pine nuts
2 tablespoons soft, sweet raisins or currants
handful of cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 fresh sardines, filleted
good pinch of saffron strands
320 g (11 oz) spaghetti
handful of toasted flaked almonds, roughly crushed

Fry the onion, garlic and chilli together in the oil until soft. Boil the wild fennel whole for 5 minutes and save the water to cook your pasta later. Squeeze the fennel to get rid of the excess water and chop finely. Melt the anchovies in the oil with the onion and add the pine nuts, raisins, fennel and tomatoes. Season to taste.

Add the sardines and the saffron mixed with 2 tablespoons of hot water, cover and leave to cook for 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Break the fish up a little and taste the sauce. Season as necessary. Boil the reserved fennel water in a large pan and add the spaghetti. Cook until tender according to the manufacturer’s suggestions and drain. Add just-cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. Serve in warm bowls topped with the almonds.

Sicily Cover

Sicily: Recipes from an Italian island is available now where all good books are sold