Pasta con le Sarde (pasta with sardines) is the national dish of Sicily, in which the tradition of Italian pasta meets the Mediterranean island's seafood-focused cuisine. It's a true classic, passed down through generations of Italian nonnas. Sardines are sauteed with fresh fennel, onion, and garlic, then deglazed with white wine and orange juice infused with saffron. Currants, pine nuts, and toasted fennel seeds add some extra dimension and texture. Fresh fennel fronds add a lovely hint of green color and anise fragrance.
Saffron isn't an everyday ingredient, so it's optional in this dish. If you don't have any saffron in the cupboard, don't let that stop you from enjoying this pasta con le sarde.
- 1/4 cup golden currants (or raisins)
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- Optional: Pinch of saffron threads
- 2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
- 8 ounces spaghetti (or bucatini pasta)
- Salt (to taste)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 (125-gram) cans oil-packed sardines (drained)
- 1 medium fennel bulb (halved, trimmed, and thinly sliced; fronds reserved)
- 1/2 medium onion (finely chopped)
- 3 small cloves garlic (finely chopped)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- Freshly ground black pepper
Gather the ingredients.
Add the currants, wine, and orange juice to a small bowl. If using saffron, add that as well. Set aside to soak.
Set a large skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel seed and toast until slightly darkened and fragrant. Remove seeds to a small bowl. If you have a mortar and pestle, you can lightly crush them. If not, leave them whole. Set aside.
Set a large pot of water over high heat. Bring to a boil. Add salt followed by the pasta. Cook until almost al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes (or according to package directions). Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water. Coat the pasta with a small amount of oil to prevent it from sticking together as it cools.
Heat the skillet again over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking add the sardines. Sear them for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the fennel (reserving the fronds), onion, and garlic. Cook until the vegetables have slightly softened, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the raisins with their soaking liquid, toasted fennel seeds, and the pine nuts. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring periodically, until the liquid has reduced by about two-thirds. Remove from the heat.
Add the cooked pasta to the skillet with the sardine mixture. Toss well. If the sauce seems a little dry, add a small amount of the reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Top with the fennel fronds and serve immediately. Enjoy!