Pasta, Wild Fennels and Sardines

Pasta con Sarde

Pasta chi Sardi 


Pasta con sarde is a traditional Sicilian dish that is made all over the island, using the same ingredients but differing in its preparation. It is most often cooked from February to the end of May because wild fennel is tender and abundant during this period and the sardines are fished in large quantities.
 Palermo  this dish is called Pasta di San Giuseppe and it is a tradition to cook it on March 19 when Saint Joseph 
is celebrated.
Somehow the ancient custom to prepare special food as an offering to the gods has been passed on to present time with a variation where instead of the pagan priest receiving the food, we eat and enjoy the meal with our family and friends.


Pasta con Sarde

The legend relates that, due to an exceptional drought, Saint Joseph was begged to cause rain so the crops would grow and prevent death by famine. When the rain came, to thank the saint, a feast day was dedicated to his celebration and the ceremonious -Tavola di San Giuseppe, Saint Joseph's Table, was instituted.
The Tavola consisted of a collection of food harvested around March 19. If it was set outside in the court yard, it was open to anybody, but if it was set inside the house, it was limited to family and friends. If Saint Joseph was asked a favor and he granted it, the gratitude was shown by promising to repeat the Tavola celebration for a certain number of years.
The food on the table varies from town to town, but the bread of
 Saint Joseph and the pasta with wild fennels, salted or fresh sardines and breadcrumbs are unfailingly on hand, along with assorted fried vegetables in pastetta, caponatina and whatever fruits and vegetables are in season. Usually no meat dishes are offered, but the table is full of desserts according to the local production. Again, unfailingly on hand are the sfingi di San Giuseppe along with bucciddati, pastries and cookies


The Pasta con sarde is made with local, ordinary and readily available ingredients. The unconventional blend of flavors and aromas, including the smell as well the color of saffron, makes this exceptional pasta a favorite dish among gourmets and food lovers.


Serves 4





 For the Sauce

  • 1 lb wild fennel     
  • 10 tablespoons olive oil     
  • 2 large onions, finely diced     
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs     
  • 1 ½ lb fresh sardines     
  • 5 salted anchovies fillets rinsed     
  • Tip of a teaspoon of saffron, diluted in 3 tablespoons of water
  • ½ cup currants or raisins, soaked in hot water     
  • 1/3 cup of pine nuts     
  • Salt and pepper to taste     

For the Pasta 

  • 1 lb perciatelli or bucatini pasta     
  • Tip of a teaspoon of saffron, diluted in 3 tablespoons of water  



The Fennel
Clean fennel by removing and discarding the roots and any discolored fronds. Rinse a few times and set aside.
Bring a large pot with 5 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil. Add fennel and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes or until fennels are very tender. Scoop out the boiled fennel with a slatted spoon and when cooled, chop very fine. Save the fennel water for cooking the pasta.


 onions  Wild Fennels  Breadcrumbs


The Onions
Over a medium flame, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan.
Add diced onions and sauté until golden, about 7 minutes.


The Breadcrumbs
In a 10 inch skillet over a medium flame, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add
2 tablespoons sautéed onions and breadcrumbs. Keep stirring until crumbs are light brown. Place in a container and set aside. In some parts of
 Sicily,  onions are substituted with sugar. 




The Sardines
Remove the head and place the sardines in a basin with cold water. Using your finger or a teaspoon, remove scales and discard interior. Open each sardine and insert your finger under the bone to remove it.
Set aside and when finished rinse fish and place in a colander.
Pat dry with paper towels.
In a 10 inch skillet over a medium flame, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 2 tablespoons sautéed onions and the sardines.
Sautee the fish briefly, add ½ cup of the reserved water from the fennel, cook for an additional 3 minutes, and then set aside.


  Pine nuts  Sardines  Dry Raisins


The Sauce
Over a medium flame, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 4 quart saucepan.
Add remaining onions and the salted anchovies and stir with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until anchovies are almost melted, about 2 minutes.
Add chopped fennel, increase heat to high and cook for about 3 minutes.
Add the diluted saffron, currant, pine nuts, ½ of the sautéed fresh sardines and salt and pepper to taste. Lower the flame and simmer for about 25 minutes.


The Pasta
Cook pasta according to package directions, reducing recommended cooking time by 2 minutes.
Drain pasta well and return to pot. Mix in remaining saffron.
Toss in ½ the sauce and 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs.
Mix for 2 minutes on low heat or until pasta and sauce are well combined.


  Pasta con Sarde


Serving Suggestions
Separate into individual portions of pasta, add a spoonful of sauce, some of the sardines and onions, and sprinkle each plate with breadcrumbs.
Serve immediately.




pasta con Sarde




If wild fennel is not available, use the green foliage of bulb fennel.   

 Bulb Fennels