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Meaty pastas such as Bolognese and carbonara tend to attract all the attention. And for good reason—they are hearty, timeless, and comforting.
Which is exactly why you should cook up a pot of pasta con le sarde, a Sicilian pasta loaded with sardines, fennel, pine nuts, and raisins.
Trust me on this one. The flavors make perfect, fork-licking sense.
Or trust Peter McAndrews, chef of the Sicilian restaurant Monsú. “This pasta is nice and complex, but simple,” he says. “You use five or six ingredients, and you don’t mess with them.”
Raisins and pine nuts in a seafood pasta? Oh yeah. “In Sicily,” McAndrews says, “it’s hard to find a dish that doesn’t have one of them.” Raisins bring hits of sweetness that match the brine of the sardines and the tang of the lemon and tomato. (Plus, the sardines deliver about 20 grams of protein per serving—along with a hefty dose of omega-3 fatty acids.) Fennel’s anise bite and the nutty, evergreen flavor of the pine nuts round help round out the dish.
“It’s traditional,” McAndrews says. “Traditional in that every town has its own tradition.” His is a mash-up of the versions found in Catania and Ragusa, but feel free to make the pasta your own. Like fresh fish? Use it. Don’t have saffron? Lose it.
What you will have every time is a dish you’re going to want to add into your rotation—one that deserves a place in the pasta pantheon right there with pesto, carbonara, and the rest of your favorites.
Sicilian Pasta with Sardines
Recipe adapted from Peter McAndrews of Monsú in Philadelphia, PA
What you’ll need:
1 can whole tomatoes, roughly chopped, juices reserved
3 Tbsp golden raisins (or regular raisins)
2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
10 saffron strands
½ cup olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, roughly chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
450g canned sardines, drained
Juice from 1 lemon
450g dried spaghetti
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup breadcrumbs
How to make it:
1. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, tomato juice, raisins, pine nuts, and saffron. Set aside.
2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes.
3. Stir in the tomato mixture and, when the sauce has reached a low simmer, add the sardines and lemon juice. Mash the sardines with the back of a heavy spoon and cook until the flavors meld, about 15 minutes.
4. While the sauce cooks, boil the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving one cup of pasta water. Stir in the reserved water to the sauce and then add the cooked pasta, tossing well. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and then top with breadcrumbs. Serves 6.