Travel to Italy

Travel to Italy
Travel to Italy

Italian Recipes

Italian Recipes
Italian Recipes

Dessert Recipes

Dessert Recipes
Dessert Recipes

Pasta con le Sarde



If there is one recipe that sums up all of Sicily for me, it has to be pasta with wild fennel and sardines. Pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines) is a dish so subtle, mysterious and harmonious.



The soft texture and salty flavor of the Mediterranean sardines against the slightly bitter and musty taste of wild green fennel from the Sicilian mountains. There is also the addition of sweet dried grapes , pine nuts from the forests, a little saffron (a touch of Moorish Spain), all combined with fine Sicilian olive oil. All of Sicily is present in this dish, which dates back to the time of the Arabs. This is a pasta dish that connects me to my history, to my Sicilian heritage. This is one of many Sicilian dishes that connects me to my family and who I am.


The food that we have come to know as Italian in the States has its roots in Sicilian soil. These flavors originated in the vast fields of durum wheat the Sicily used to produce Italy's first dried pasta. The flavors can be found in the juicy and sweet red tomatoes of the coastline south of Syracuse, and in the olives and olive oil from the sun-baked hills found around the island.


Brought to America from Southern Italy where it is all now but forgotten, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is a meal eaten by Italian-Americans that features (at least) seven fish/seafood dishes. Along with our hosts, myself, and Heather from All Roads Lead to the Kitchen, some bloggers have gotten together to share menu ideas for your Seven Fishes feast. Along with the traditional seven fish and seafood dishes, we've included some side dishes, a palate cleanser, a dessert, and a cocktail.

Salmon Rillettes from Karen's Kitchen Stories
Marinated Shrimp Salad from A Healthy Life For Me
Pistachio Crusted Baked Cod from Cravings of a Lunatic
Pasta con le Sarde from Savoring Italy
Tuscan Seafood Stew from Food Done Light
Mixed Seafood Risotto from All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Linguine with Scallops and Broccoli from Kudos Kitchen By Renee
Brussels Sprouts Risotto from Eats Well With Others
Marinated Roasted Vegetables from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Limoncello Sorbet from Creative Culinary
Zuppa Inglese from Christina's Cucina
Cranberry Limoncello Spritzer from Snappy Gourmet

The Feast of the Seven Fishes originates most likely in Sicily or even Naples. In my family in Sicily and my in-laws that are Calabrian (but live most of the year in the Lombardy region), they don't make 7 actual courses of fish. My one aunt in Sicily will have an antipasto (maybe calamari fritti)and a pasta dish with seafood. My Calabrian mother-in-law on Christmas Eve will usually make an appetizer with salmon, a seafood pasta, and she is known to also serve her famous salumi that she makes (even though most do not eat meat on Christmas Eve).

So it seems the tradition of seven fish dishes carried over with the immigrants and became more of an Italian-American feast. Why exactly the number of 7 fish dishes? The Catholics fast on Christmas Eve and don't eat meat. They break the fast on this special cena della vigilia (Christmas Eve dinner) with fish. There are several theories when it comes to the symbolism of seven: it took seven days for God to create the earth, the Bible says. The number seven also could be representative of the sacraments. There are also those families where the number three holds more significance than seven, perhaps as it represents the Three Wise Men and the Holy Trinity. Some Italian families do go all out and make 13 different fish dishes. Twelve of those dishes are representative of the apostles and the last one is for Jesus.

What can you be prepared to find on this delicious feast? In my family, we have baccalà, squid, scungilli ', calamari (usually fried), clams, mussels, a white fish. There are so many dishes and variations, but my mom and dad used to make an appetizer of stuffed clams,  also some fried calamari and a mountain of pasta with mixed seafood. One of my best memories of my parents collaborating in the kitchen was for this festive and delectable evening.

Some notes on this recipe: Pasta con le sarde is typically made with olive oil, onions, pasta and a mixture of sardines and anchovy. I used spaghetti in this recipe, but you could also use bucatini. Fresh pasta would be ideal, as the sauce just sticks better to the pasta. You flavor the dish up with wild fennel, pine nuts and raisins. It is very nice to add a touch of saffron (optional if you don't have it available). I like to add a splash of white wine and lemon zest to the sauce. And I top it off with the nice crunch of my own bread crumbs (it is so easy to grind and toast your own bread crumbs and adds a much better texture than canned bread crumbs, but use store bought bread crumbs if you don't have your own).With tomatoes or without? I learned that cookbook author Pino Correnti argues that the tomato-less recipe published in 1886 by the folklorist Giuseppe Pitrè is the only authentic version. In my Sicilian family, it has always been made without tomatoes. Now if we were lucky enough to be in Sicily, it would be no problem to find wild fennel as it grows all over the island. If you can't get a hold of wild fennel, use the tops of the fennel bulb and the fennel. Here is how I made my homemade breadcrumbs.

3-4 slices of bread (whatever you prefer)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Grind the bread up in a food processor. 3-4 slices of bread should yield about 2 cups of bread crumbs. In a large bowl, toss the breadcrumbs with olive oil. Place the breadcrumbs on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes until golden brown (rotate halfway through). Allow the breadcrumbs to cool. Place the breadcrumbs in the food processor and pulse a few times until the breadcrumbs are finely processed. Store in an airtight container. I keep this batch of breadcrumbs in a plastic container in the fridge and use it up in about a month.

A big GRAZIE to Heather for asking me to co-host this event and for the wonderful bloggers that joined in!
Buon Natale!


Pasta con le Sarde

by Savoring Italy
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients (4 servings)
  • 1 bunch (about 6) baby fennel bulbs with their fronds
  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds fresh sardines, cleaned, scaled, deboned, and roughly chopped (or 2 tins of canned sardines)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 3 salt-cured anchovies
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound pasta (bucatini, spaghetti, or linguini)
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup raisins or currants
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • toasted breadcrumbs for garnish
  • lemon zest
Instructions
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the baby fennel and fronds and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and chop; set aside. If you can't find baby fennel, use chopped fennel and cook with the onion.

Heat a large skillet with 1/4 cup olive oil. Add the onions and saute until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and the anchovies and break up with a wooden spoon.

Meanwhile, drop the pasta into a pot of salted water and cook until just al dente. Drain and set aside.
Add the reserved fennel, raisins, pine nuts, and a ladle of pasta cooking water to the skillet. 

Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. 

Add the sardines and continue to cook, uncovered, until the sardines are cooked through. Add the reserved pasta and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Garnish with the breadcrumbs and lemon zest.

26 comments

  1. I'd be happy with a huge plateful of your amazing pasta ANY time of year! Thanks for inviting me to the table for this fabulous virtual dinner party---wish we could enjoy it in person! Wishing you and yours the merriest Christmas! xoxo

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  2. It's a dish I've been meaning to make for a very long time. But where to find fresh sardines? Sadly, I've never been able to find them where I live.

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  3. This is absolutely gorgeous Lora! I could taste, feel, touch this dish through your beautiful introduction - how sensual! I know that I have to give this a try (and I'll take your suggestion on using bucatini as it's probably my fave cut). So hungry now. ;)

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  4. I have never had this dish, Lora, but you make it sounds phenomenal, which I'm sure it is! My family in Italy isn't on the coast, so we never ate quite as much fish and seafood as those who are only about 30 miles away! I love traditions at holidays, and it seems so sad that they are dying out. Glad we're doing our part to keep them going!

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  5. […] Shrimp Salad from A Healthy Life For Me Pistachio Crusted Baked Cod from Cravings of a Lunatic Pasta con le Sarde from Savoring Italy Tuscan Seafood Stew from Food Done Light Mixed Seafood Risotto from All Roads […]

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  6. I am pretty squeamish about sardines, but I would absolutely, positively try them in this pasta. I have a feeling I will love them afterwards.

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  7. What a gorgeous dish!! My dad was Sicilian so this recipe speaks to me :)

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  8. this is a family favorite at our house

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  9. Wow, would never have thought about adding raisins. Great idea! It's gorgeous too!

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  10. WOW! You have outdone yourself! This looks amazing!

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  11. I don't cook much with sardines but I hear they have a lovely nutty taste when cooked, which leads me to wonder...why the heck don't I cook with sardines? That needs to change in 2016. Your dish looks completely amazing, Lora. Light and flavorful. The breadcrumb topping and the golden raisins are making me swoon. Thanks for hosting this event. I had a blast!

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  12. Wow, what a terrific combination of ingredients and flavors, this sounds amazing!

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  13. This dish looks so freaking good. I love pine nuts in my pasta, and sardines are so darn good for you I am always looking to add them wherever I can.

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  14. Lora, this looks amazingly delicious. I love reading your stories about the food and your family too. So fun to be virtually cooking with you too. xoxo.

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  15. […] Rillettes from Karen’s Kitchen Stories Marinated Shrimp Salad from A Healthy Life For Me Pasta con le Sarde from Savoring Italy Tuscan Seafood Stew from Food Done Light Mixed Seafood Risotto from All Roads […]

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  16. What a splendid looking pasta dish you have here, and a lovely virtual feast too! Love the new blog name too. May this holiday season be all you dream it to be.

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  17. I love all of the flavors of this dish and I love that it's a recipe that connects you to ITALY... I mean to your history! <3 Also, Feast of the Seven Fishes sounds pretty awesome!

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  18. Wow, I learned so much from this post -- Thank you! I also prefer homemade breadcrumbs (preferably from homemade bread). And this pasta dish? It looks amazing.

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  19. Have I mentioned lately how much I love the new direction of your blog? It's so cool that you all got together to do the Feast of the Seven! The pasta looks tremendous!

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  20. This looks like a fabulous comfort food! I want a big bowl of it right now. Yummy.

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  21. This is amazing but I think I need for you to come visit so we can make it together!

    Love the site; so perfect for you!

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  22. Thank you very much, Kristen! I appreciate your support. Hope you had wonderful holidays!!

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  23. Now that would be a blast (we have been talking about this for a while, right?:) Thank you, Barb! Appreciate your support! Hope you had nice holidays xx

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  24. I haven't been here in a while and I'm so happy to see you've changed things up! I love it.
    This pasta dish looks amazing and I wish I could say I've had it before. It's funny you mentioned the Feast being more of an Italian American tradition brought over, I never knew our heavy seafood Christmas Eve meal had a name until I was an adult, ha ha. I just knew we had bacala, pasta with anchovies & calamari salad every Christmas Eve.
    Everything you cook and bake always look amazing! Hope you are doing well Lora! xo

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