If there is any pasta dish that represents Sicilian tradition to its fullest, it is pasta con le sarde. Combining the culinary footprints of Sicily's kitchens, this classic recipe mixes maccheroncini (macaroni) with fennel, tomatoes, pine nuts, raisins, anchovies, onion and fresh sardines.
The pasta is always ladled out of the pot, never poured into a colander, and then put in a serving dish. During two weeks in Sicily, we never had a piece of overcooked pasta. Test, test, test was Chef Tino's rule, and, apparently, every
1 pound fresh sardines
1/2 pound fennel bulb
1 garlic clove, minced
1 onion, chopped
8 ounces uncooked tomato sauce*
4 ounces pine nuts
1/4 cup raisins, softened in water
2 salted anchovies
1 pound macaroni
Bone the sardines. (If you slit the fish lengthwise and grab it by the tail,
the bone easily strips out). Chop the fennel and boil under just tender in water
that you will use to cook the pasta. Strain the fennel out of the pot and chop finely.
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add enough olive oil to just cover the
bottom. Brown garlic and onion in oil until soft. Add tomatoes, chopped fennel,
pine nuts, raisins, and anchovies. Simmer for 10 minutes. At this point, start the
macaroni and add the sardines to the pasta sauce. If the sauce is too dry, add a
very small amount of the fennel water. Don't stir the sauce once the sardines
are added, to avoid breaking them up.
Place the cooked pasta in serving dish and pour the sauce over, finishing off
with a sprinkling of Pecorino and a little olive oil.
Serves 4 to 6.
* This is best made with fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped, skin and seeds
included. If tomatoes aren't in season, you could use good canned tomatoes.