Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sicilian Sardine Sauce

This dish has become one of my comfort meals based on a recipe in Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking. For many it has a fairly strong flavor but I am in love with it, I'm just happy that my wife likes it too. It seems to have the same origin as the tuna pasta I blogged about a while back but has a much more robust flavor with considerably more depth but takes a bit more work to pull off.

Although cultured fennel from a market would work in this dish I'm lucky enough to have a stubborn wild fennel growing in my yard that I can use which I prefer since the fronds tend to have more flavor than the store-bought ones.

Tomato-saffron sauce, pine nuts, salt-packed anchovies, golden raisins soaking.

Boiling the fennel fronds.

Beautiful fresh sardines born in the Monterey Bay.

Sardines filleted.

Sautéing diced onions

Fennel added to the onions.

Now with the sardines added.

Whole wheat bread pulsed in the food processor into crumbs for a topping.

Sauce near completion.

Finishing the pasta in the pan with the sauce.

The final dish served with a green salad.

Serves 4 (or 2 with leftovers for another night)

1 pound fresh sardines 
2 cups fennel fronds
1 tablespoon raisins
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 diced onion
4 salt-packed anchovy fillets
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste dissolved in 1 cup warm water with a large pinch of saffron threads
1/2 cup homemade dry bread crumbs toasted in a hot skillet
1/2 to 1 pound of pasta

Prepare the sardines and fillet them.
Wash the fennel fronds in cold water and add to a large partially covered pot of boiling water to cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the cooked fennel and set aside reserving the pot of water to cook the pasta. Once cool, squeeze the water from the fennel then chop to add to the sauce later.
Soak the raisins in cold water for 15 minutes then drain and chop.
Wash, fillet, and dry the anchovies in a paper towel.
Heat a medium (12") skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the diced onion to saute until translucent. Add the anchovies and use a wooden spoon to crush them combining them with the onion in the skillet, then add the chopped fennel to cook for about 5 minutes.
Clear the middle of skillet and add half of the filleted sardines to cook about 1 minute per side. When done, move them to the perimeters of the skillet with the fennel/onion/anchovy mix and add the remainder of the sardines, again about 1 minute per side. 
Once the sardines are done, add the pine nuts, chopped raisins, tomato/saffron solution, salt and pepper to skillet to completely combine and heat as a sauce.
(This can all be done up to a few hours ahead of time and reheated just before finishing the dish)
Boil the pasta in the fennel water to a minute short of the instructions on the package, drain, then add to the sauce to finish for the final minute of cooking.
Add the bread crumbs and combine just prior to serving.

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