Oct 22, 2010

Be my guest - Pasta con le sarde e finocchio

Earlier this week I wrote a guest post for Mangia Monday, a weekly column over at Wanderlust Women Travel, in which I spotlighted a secret Tuscan restaurant called Osteria il Vignaccio.

Today I welcome Wanderlust Women Travel's owner Lisa Fantino who will be launching our first installment of the 2010 be My Guest series. Lisa will be taking us to Sicily and introducing us to her Nonna0s rendition of a classic Sicilian dish, Pasta con le Sarde.

In Italy, this is a seasonal dish, one commonly made between March and September, i.e. the only time of year during which Sicilian pescherie (open air fish markets) carry the perfect size of fresh sardines; and when fields are most abundant with wild fennel just begging to be hand picked.

But let's hear how Lisa makes this delectable Sicilian treat.

Prego, Lisa. The toque is yours.

"Growing up in a Sicilian-American household my lunches consisted of mortadella sandwiches instead of bologna and capicola instead of ham. I also ate babaluci (snails) and vosteddi (spleen sandwiches) but one of my favorite dishes was Nonna's "Pasta Finocchio Sarde" (pasta with fennel and sardines). Now, don't roll your eyes or scrunch your face because I am about to share with you a bit of heaven that's really easy to make because it's partly ready-made.

Trust me, this dish is so easy that I have taught a native Jamaican woman how to make it and she's now speaking with a Sicilian accent. Also, you must know that Sicilians don't measure anything so everything here is an approximation.

5-6 cloves of garlic (or as many as you desire without scaring the neighbors) The garlic should be thinly sliced and not chopped
Handful of pinoli (pine) nuts
Handful of golden raisins (for some reason they taste better than regular raisins here)
Olive oil (extra virgin, first-pressed, certo)
1 can "Condimento per pasta con sarde"
Nonna's cast iron skillet if you're lucky enough to have one.
1 lb perciatelli pasta (some folks use thin spaghetti but I prefer perciatelli which allows you to make that sweet sucking noise as you savor this taste of heaven)

Start by boiling your pasta water so that it can cook while you prepare the dressing which only takes about 5-7 minutes. (BTW – the perciatelli should be cooked al dente. This is the wrong dish for mushy pasta!)

Heat the oil in your skillet until hot and toss in the garlic for a minute and then the pinoli nuts. Simmer until golden brown but do not burn them. Both of these ingredients are extremely delicate in that regard, and can both taste rancid if burnt to a crisp.

Toss in the can of sarde mixture.

Add the raisins and simmer on low for approximately 5 minutes, or until the wrinkles come out of the raisins and they look plump.

Toss the entire mixture over the drained perciatelli and mix well. Serve with grated cheese and/or muddica (typical Sicilian toasted breadcrumb) to garnish.

The dish itself is of Arabic origin, as are many things on the island of Sicily, but don’t tell that to my family."

Grazie Lisa, this was wonderful.
I'm sure many native Sicilians out there are swooning with memories of this great dish.

Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist and attorney, and the Italy travel concierge and creative force behind Wanderlust Women Travel and the recently launched Amalfi destination wedding site, Wanderlust Weddings. Her love of the Amalfi Coast has also inspired her to gather sterling silver jewelry and gifts inspired by the beauty of the region at Amalfi Blu. She also writes travel features for MNUI travel insurance and blogs as Lady Litigator.

Interested in reading more about Sicily and its glorious food?

Check out my articles (with recipes) on Pasta alla Norma ~ Panelle ~ Caponata ~ Grilled Swordfish Steak ~ Orange Salad alla Trapanese ~ Gelo di Anguria

Image credits and © cateringadomicilio.it | Adriao via WikimediaCommons


  1. Definitely one for me and my mother-in-law to try.. she already does a quick UK version but without the fennel.. Not the same of course as we use a tin of sardines in tomato sauce .. and it is so tasty, quick and easy for a supper .. so I know she will love this.

  2. oh wow. these look delicious and i can just imagine the smells...mmm...

  3. Grazie for having me. Believe it or not - I already had dinner tonite but could eat this any time :)

  4. Anne~
    You should introduce her to this authentic tomato-less Sicilian version...


    ...and the flavors!


    I'm thinking of putting the CUOCO brand can for sale in my online store... ;)


  5. I enjoyed that dish in the ancient town of Erice. Perciatelli is my favorite pasta.

  6. Inn @ Crippe Creek~
    Erice... *sigh* what a gorgeous place. Perciatelli rock! ANd to think they can be homeade with a knitting iron

  7. Ciao!! This sounds very delicious!!

  8. Alessandra~
    It is! Yo should try making it, it's soooo easy!

  9. Yum! I adore sardines. And nobody else in my family likes them, so all the more for me! :-)

  10. Jim~
    If you adore sardines, you HAVE to try this... Even YOUR WIFE will change her mind, believe me.

  11. What a fun series, Eleonora. I love it and can't wait to read what your other guest chefs have cooking.

    I've heard that the sardines in Italy (southern Italy maybe?? boh?) are much more delicious than the ones I grew up with in the US. Do you know if this is true? I've tried them on and off here but I can't really seem to get "into" them. Too bad, I'd love to try Lisa's dish, especially since it is SO easy. I'm always on the lookout for new *fast and easy* dishes we can make.

  12. Cherrye~
    thank you so much for your visit! I love how food gets us around the table, knocking out formality and introiductions!
    Sarde are quintessential southern Italian; super-healthy (rich in Omega3) and delicious. Lisa's version is very quick and easy, while the original Sicilian recipe from scratch is quite complex.
    Why not train your palate to sardines in a step by step approach. Try them roasted "alla piastra" first, or on the bbq... and then slowly experiment! ;)

  13. You cheated!!!
    Tell me how to make it from scratch!
    I live in Las vegas, NV there are no more stores here that carry the can of sarde mixture [although it's available online @ http://www.labellamarketplace.com/index.php?p=product&id=485&parent=49
    cheapest i've found]

    I tried to make it myself but it was not strong enough!


  14. John-
    The recipe from scratch is scheduled, in the meantime why not visit my online store?! I carry the Cuoco brand and ship all over the US!!! Ciao

  15. This recipe seems good.. I will try it... There is a mispelled word.. Sicilian breadcrumbs are called Mollica.. Modica is the city

  16. Ciao Anonymous,
    thanks for your comment. No misspelling: the Sicilian pronunciation of double Ls in words is almost always "DD," so for breadcrumbs, "mollica" locals say moddìca accent on the i, sometimes even muddìca.
    My ex-boyfriend from Catania would call me "bedda" instead of bella.