Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dinner During Lent - Pasta Con Le Sarde

Welcome to part 2 of Dinner During Lent, where I'm cooking a different meat-free meal for every Friday during the 40 days leading up to Easter. This year is seems fast food chains are geared up for Lent and even inviting the Pope to join them!

Part 1 included a simple dinner of pierogies and asparagus. This recipe has much more history and work to be done!

Last year when we (Bryce and I) traveled to Europe, the part I was most looking forward to was our cooking class in Sicily. There we learned to cook the esteemed Sicilian dish of Pasta Con Le Sarde, or Pasta with Sardines. It's made with fresh sardines, which are abundant on the island, and wild fennel which only grows in Sicily. On our first night in Sicily I had Pasta Con Le Sarde in a restaurant before learning how to make it the following day in our cooking class.

During our class the English-speaker/tour operator recorded the recipe for us while the Italian-speaker cooked and dictated to him. I didn't take a good look at the notes until just recently while planning to remake the recipe. Mamma Mia is all I can say, here's what they said: 

  • Fry a mid-sized onion in olive oil, then add some water and fry a little more
  • Put raisins and pine nuts in water for 15 minutes
  • A bag of saffron in a little water
  • Boil the wild fennel
  • When the onion is very tender add the sardines, add some white wine, stir slowly
I combined our pitiful notes with the photos I took and a few recipes that I found on the internet to recreate successfully.

Pasta Con Le Sarde (Pasta with Sardines)
Makes 8 servings

2/3 of a cup of bread crumbs
1 large onion, chopped
3 - 4.75 ounce cans of sardines in water, bones removed
2 anchovies, chopped
1/4 of a cup of pine nuts
1/4 of a cup of raisins
12 ounces of spaghetti (or bucatini)
3/4 of a cup of white wine
The tops of a bulb of fennel, tied together with kitchen twine
1/2 of a teaspoon of saffron threads
Olive oil

Soak the pine nuts and raisins in a bowl of warm water. In another small bowl, soak the saffron threads in warm water.

In a large skillet, heat 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil before adding the breadcrumbs. Stir often and continue only until the breadcrumbs begin to turn golden brown. Remove the breadcrumbs and set them aside.

Fill a large pot 2/3 of the way with water and bring to a rapid boil. First, cook the fennel until it's bright green and softened. Remove it from the water, remove the twine, and chop the fennel. Second, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until desired doneness, about 8 - 10 minutes. Reserve some of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and keep it warm.

In the (now empty breadcrumb) skillet, begin again with 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil before adding the onions. Cook them, stirring often, until softened. Add the anchovies and stir them in with the onions. Add the sardines!

Drain the water from the raisins and pine nuts before adding them to the mixture.

Heat the entire mixture through before adding the wine. Cook for another 5 - 6 minutes until incorporated. 

Combine the pasta with the sardine mixture and the reserved pasta water. Finally, top with fennel and bread crumbs and enjoy.

Making it at home was fun and brought back fond memories of our trip. I must admit that the flavors weren't nearly as robust as they were in Sicily with substitutions of the canned (vs fresh) sardines and American (vs wild Sicilian) fennel. Although I'm not a big fan of sardines, I'm continually surprised buy how mild and welcoming they are in this dish. It's like an Italian take on our tuna noodle casserole, almost!

Mangia mangia!

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Dinner During Lent

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