Pasta con sarde a mare is a Sicilian dish made with (wild) fennel, pine nuts, raisins & anchovies. So much flavor from such simple ingredients!
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If you’ve read many posts here you’ve probably seen that my son’s favorite food by far is homemade gnocchi. ‘Green’ is the current favorite served with pesto, sometimes with roasted tomato sauce mixed in. We also have pasta and risotto regularly and one the places we most often go out for a meal is a great local pizzeria.
As with many families with young kids, I imagine, we love Italian food as so much of it is kid-friendly and it helps being mainly pretty easy to make.
Traditional Italian or with a twist?
I do very much enjoy playing with an idea, as Italian food can lend itself to. My carrot ravioli, beet pizza or dessert gnocchi are examples of variations on the theme. But we do also love classics like carbonara, panna cotta or focaccia (even if I do adapt them a little at times). After a bit I decided to try something Sicilian.
I have only visited Sicily very briefly a number of years ago now but I would love to explore more. In the meantime I really want to try more Sicilian foods as they have some amazing dishes – caponata (a delicious eggplant/aubergine dish), arancini and cannoli being some of the better known but there are so many more.
Common ingredients in Sicilian cooking
Some commonly used ingredients are eggplant/aubergine, pine nuts, raisins and fennel, as well as fish and seafood. They’re all ingredients I love which is probably partly why I am drawn to their cuisine. If I’m being more accurate, it’s generally ‘passoline’ rather than raisins and wild fennel rather than cultivated, but since they are harder to find here, we’ll go with the best substitutes. Just look for fennel with lots of fronds still attached.
What, no sardines?
I came across this dish pasta can sarde a mare – ‘pasta with sardines at sea’, which is a bit of a pun on another Sicilian dish very similar to this with sardines. In this dish, the sardines are ‘at sea’ ie they are missing! But what is in there is a delicious relatively simple mix that’s so full of flavor.
I believe some stories go that a chef was all out of sardines making pasta con sarde and so came up with this instead. Whatever the truth, I liked the sound of the dish and the fun name so it seemed a great dish to try, and it certainly was. Even being a pasta dish with no cheese in there – almost unimaginable in our house – I instantly loved it.
How to make pasta con sarde a mare
This dish takes a little more effort than some pasta dishes as you need to cook the fennel first and toast the pine nuts and breadcrumbs but it still doesn’t take all that long and isn’t difficult. It might not be the prettiest looking plateful nor have fancy ingredients but believe me it’s delicious.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much flavor came through from such a relatively simple list of ingredients, but it really does. It’s definitely one of those rustic charm dishes that takes very little and makes it something special, but I think that’s true of quite a few Italian dishes, and certainly those from Sicily I have tried so far.
I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else has brought to the feast today and, in due course, continuing my exploring of Sicilian cuisine. For now, though, I think I’ll be looking for another bunch of fennel with lots of green fronds to make this again as it was so good and I recommend you do too.
Want to try some more traditional pasta dishes? Try these:
- Pumpkin ravioli, tortelli di zucca
- Pasta alla Norma (pasta with eggplant and tomato)
- Sardinian fregola with clams
- Plus get more ideas in the Italian recipes archives.
Pasta con sarde a mare - 'pasta with sardines at sea'
- 1 bulb fennel small, lots of fronds approx 300g, roughly chop, boil in lightly salted water. Reserve water for pasta
- 2 tbsp pine nuts 18g - lightly dry fried to toast
- 1 oz bread 30g (1 small slice), made into crumbs
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic large, crushed or finely chopped
- 2 tbsp raisins 22g
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 4 anchovy fillets finely chopped
- 7 oz pasta 200g - bucatini if pos or spaghetti, cooked in water from fennel
- 4 tbsp water from pasta added to the sauce, approx
- Trim the top and bottom from the fennel and roughly chop. Place it in a pan of water with a little salt, bring to a boil then reduce the het to a simmer. Cook until the fennel is tender, around 10 minutes. Remove the fennel from the water but reserve the pan of water. Allow the fennel to cool slightly before chopping finely.
- While the fennel is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet/frying pan until just slightly colored and set aside. Use the same pan to toast the breadcrumbs until dry and slightly browned. Set aside and mix through the sugar.
- Warm the oil in a medium skillet/frying pan and add the garlic. Cook for a minute then add the fennel, pine nuts, raisins, tomato paste and anchovies. Cook over a medium heat, stirring regularly, while you cook the pasta.
- Cook the pasta in the water from cooking the fennel until al dente.
- Add around 1/4cup/4tbsp of the pasta water to the fennel sauce to loosen then add the cooked pasta and mix well so it is well coated by the sauce.
- Serve with the breadcrumbs scattered over the top.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline’s Cooking Amazon store.
See more ideas for an Italian feast:
- Cacio e Uova Meatless Recipe from She Loves Biscotti
- Gnocchi alla Romana from Tramplingrose
- Rosemary Focaccia from Curious Cuisiniere
- Tomato Caprese with Burrata from Casa de Crews
- Classic Vodka Sauce from Cupcakes & Kale Chips
- Florentine Pizza from A Mind Full Mom
- Parma Rosa Baked Ziti from Palatable Pastime
- Pasta e Fagioli from Cindy’s Recipes and Writings
- Pesce all’Aqua Pazza from Monica’s Table
- Tuscan Porterhouse with Balsamic-Rosemary Steak Sauce and Seared Radicchio from The Texan New Yorker
- Italian Berries, Mascarpone and Marsala Budini from La Bella Vita Cucina
- Berry Tiramisu from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Fiordilatte Gelato from Manu’s Menu
- Orange and Almond Ricotta Cheesecake from Pine Needles In My Salad
- Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries from The Chef Next Door
- Salame al Cioccolato (Chocolate Salami) from A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures
- Strawberry Panna Cotta from From Gate to Plate
- Tiramisu Semifreddo from Tara’s Multicultural Table
- Zabaglione Gelato from Magnolia Days
- Bicerin (Italian Coffee) from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
- Liquore all’Alloro from Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Sgroppino (Frothy Italian Sorbetto Cocktail) from The Wimpy Vegetarian
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