pasta con le sarde

Pasta con le sarde – A summer recipe with tinned fish

Pasta con le sarde is a recipe that reminds me of hot summer days on vacation at the beach after a long, cold winter. One like the one we just had, with too many gray and rainy days to count. My bones are aching for some warm weather and my soul is in need of some serious UV rays. The reality is that it’s still April,  spring is lagging and the colder temperatures are lingering. I think that the first warm day of spring is actually going to feel like full summer already. There are no more middle seasons, you know. So we might as well make our own. I am proposing to you this dish as a wish of a wonderful, deliciously spicy and sunny summer to everybody.

Originally from Sicily, this recipe has become a national classic especially because it’s simple and quick to make but so layered with favors. Judging by the ingredients it looks like someone tried to squeeze first, second course and dessert into just one dishBonus points, you are only going to dirty up a couple of pots to prepare it which is great, because nobody wants to hang around a steamy kitchen when it’s 100 degree out there. And don’t get me started with the AC situation in Italy. Those things are going to slowly kill you. Everybody knows that.


  • 400 gr spaghettoni or bucatini
  • 300 gr of sardines (fresh or tinned)
  • 100 gr fresh shallot
  • 150 gr di wild fennel
  • 1 clove of garlic (red garlic)
  • 25 gr raisins
  • 20 gr pine nuts
  • 6 anchovies
  • Chili pepper
  • 1 bag of saffron
  • Olivando EVOO

Here are the ingredients for a classic pasta con le sarde. Ideally you would want to use fresh sardines, but unless you live nearby a fisherman village, they are not really easy to find fresh. Luckily, there are so many quality alternatives with tinned fish that it becomes really easy and still quite satisfying to assemble this dish. 

In a small bowl, soak the raisins for 30 min in warm water. In a large pan, pour some olive oil and let the chopped shallot gently sizzle till blond. Meanwhile, in a medium pot start boiling water for the pasta. Toss in the wild fennel and let boil for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Fish the fennel out of the water, chop it and set aside.

When the shallots are soft, toss in the anchovies and let them dissolve in the oil. Then add the raisins, the pine nuts, the chopped fennel and the chili pepper. Let them cook for a couple of minutes.

This is where people like to  make some variations. The original recipe from Palermo asks for a bag of Saffron, which, if you are going that route, you should add right now. Instead I like to add a little tomato sauce. Just for the color. Let all the ingredients meld, clean the sardines and add the to the pan. 

Time for the noodles. I am using these spaghettoni by Liguori that are a lot of fun. Cooking time is a stout 12 min and you can see how coarse they look. Which makes for a great grip. Also, the flavor is quite intense, typical of quality semolina flour. 

As you can see they left the curl where they let them hang to dry up. As a result each noodle is twice as long as normal. So if you are thinking about breaking the spaghetti in half, I suggest you keep scrolling. Just toss them in the boiling, fennel flavored water will’ya. 

Watch your cooking time. This is also the perfect time to uncork a bottle of wine, if you haven’t done it already. We are drinking a pinot bianco from Friuli today. Crisp and not too fruity.  

Scoop the spaghettoni out of the water and into the sauce pan at least 2-3 minutes before fully cooked. In modern times, the internet and other social media pressure require that we finish cooking the pasta in the sauce pan. Nobody’s italian grandmother has ever done anything like this but nowadays it would be a sin not to. They call this method “risottare” because you are cooking pasta like you would cook rice to make risotto. So you keep the cooking water from the pasta (and the fennel) and you add it to the sauce pan as needed. On ladle at the time.  
At the last second, add the fennel before a final stir. 

Plating requires just a little extra attention, since the sauce is actually pretty chunky. Use a spoon to make sure everybody gets their portion of sardines with their pasta. And while it’s still  steaming on your plate, it’s the right moment to add one last swirl of good olive oil. Usually, with fish, I’d suggest the crisp, clean flavor of award winning EVOO Originale. However, sarde are quite flavorful so even the fruitier Moraiolo will pair really well.  


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