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Sicilian Style Pasta with Sardines

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Let me begin this post with a little word to all you Sardine Haters out there (and you know who you are):

Just keep swimming.

Do you detect a little bitterness in my tone? How is it that making one batch of Sardine Pasta can flirt with turning Susan in the Boonies into something dangerously close to a bitter woman?


Sicilian Style Pasta with Sardines

I made this DELICIOUS pasta dish at my house for a couple of reasons.

Reason #1: Fennel was on sale, and I bought some. Fennel is never on sale in middle TN. It can be $4.00 a bulb. Ridiculous! So when I saw some at my local Publix for $2.00, I snagged it.

I’ve been known to use fennel in soup, but it’s been too hot around here lately to make soup. And so there the little fennel bulb sat in the vegetable crisper of my fridge… gently  aging. Which, in general, is not what you want a vegetable to do.

I got out my trusty yellow Gourmet cookbook, to see what they might suggest I do with a fennel bulb. And there, I found inspiration: Sicilian-Style Pasta with Sardines. (Cue the love theme from The Godfather). Images of Don Corleone and my undying love for Mario Batali and Italian Cuisine in general began dancing through my head. By the way, you haven’t lived till you’ve seen Mario Batali dancing around on his orange clogs, to the tune of Speak Softly Love, inside my head.

And then, Mario was joined by Dr. Oz, who reminded me (and Mario) how healthy sardines are for you, and how they give you gloriously shiny hair. (I don’t know that Mario really was into the shiny hair rationale.) And then I remembered…  (and here, we get to Reason #2)…

Reason #2: I remembered the cans of sardines that were gently aging in my pantry, from the last time I made a vow to Dr. Oz to eat more sardines, that I might attain that desired mane of gloriously shiny hair.

So, this recipe seemed like a perfect solution to my problem of what to do with a gently aging fennel bulb, and an uneaten can of sardines.

It sounded like it would contain a beautiful balance of flavors and textures, as you will see when you examine the ingredient list: some salty, some sweet, some rich flavors, some acidity to cut the richness, some silky smoothness, some crunch. And, in fact, it delivered everything it promised, and more.

So, if it was so good, why the bitterness in my earlier remark? Why mention that the Haters should “Just keep swimming”?

When I fixed this absolutely delicious pasta, the Sardine Haters with whom I live would have NONE OF IT. Their loss, right? More for me, right?

I have eaten this pasta for 3 lunches and 3 dinners this week, all by my little self. And I can assure you that even after reaching what most mere mortals would have found to be Sardine Pasta Overload, I enjoyed every bowl, down to the sixth and last. It really was scrumptious!

But I wouldn’t have minded sharing a couple of those bowls with someone else.

And then, there were the hatefilled Sardine Hater comments, made by other residents of this domicile, who shall here remain nameless, each time I heated up a bowl of pasta in the microwave.

I’ve had my belly full of both this pasta, and their snide sardine remarks. (Let’s call them snardine remarks, shall we?)

And so I have a word to say to all you Sardine Haters of the World.

If you don’t like the little fishies, in the words of Dorrie from Finding Nemo:

“Just keep swimming”.

There is no need to leave a hateful comment. No one is forcing you to read this recipe. You know it’s not for you. Move along, please. Come back next recipe, when there will be no sardines.

Just keep swimming.

Recipe Notes: the recipe you see here is altered from the original, but this is how I made it. I halved the amount of sardines that the original recipe called for. (I used one can of sardines, instead of two, in hopes of tempting someone in my house to try it. I was unsuccessful in this effort. Not that I’m bitter about it.) I do think it’s important to add plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper to the top of each bowl of pasta before serving. They make the dish brighter and more vibrant.  Finally, saffron is a very expensive ingredient, and if you don’t have any, I think this recipe can be made without it, without suffering too much from the lack thereof.

Sicilian Style Pasta with Sardines

1 slice firm white bread (I used Tuscan bread)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c. plus 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large fennel bulb
1/8 t. crumbled saffron threads
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. dry white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 T. fennel seeds, crushed
1 can of sardines in oil, drained
1 lb. spaghetti
1/2 c. toasted pine nuts
Freshly ground black pepper

Tear bread into smaller chunks and process in food processor, into rough crumbs. (I like my bread crumbs with a little texture.) Put 2 T. olive oil into a sauté pan over med. high heat, and add minced garlic and bread crumbs. The idea here is to lightly brown the bread crumbs without burning the garlic, which can be achieved by watching it carefully and stirring/tossing the bread crumbs periodically. This takes about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, and set aside.

Remove fennel fronds, chop and reserve as garnish. Trim fennel stalks flush with bulb and discard. Cut any brown spots from outer layers and quarter bulb lengthwise. Cut out core and finely chop bulb. Combine saffron, raisins, and wine in a small bowl.

Heat remaining 1/2 c. oil in a 12″ heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add onion, fennel bulb, fennel seeds, and salt to taste and cook, stirring, until fennel is tender, about 15 minutes. Add wine mixture and sardines, breaking up sardines with a fork, and simmer for 1 minute.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain.

Toss pasta in a bowl with fennel sauce, fennel fronds, toasted pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste. Add bread crumbs and toss again.

Bon appétit, my sardine eating friends!

And please, let’s keep the comments as snardine free as possible.


Friday 13th of March 2020

Just what I was looking for! Dr. Oz got me on the sardine boat too :) and I've been looking for some recipes. I promise to come back and tell you how it came out. (I just hate it when people say things like that and now here I am doing it.) But, I promise I will, I will. .