This Spaghetti con le Sarde is one of my favorite pastas, and it was one of the highlights of our Feast of the Seven Fishes at Christmas. The Sardinian flavors are the perfect blend of salty and sweet, and they soak into the golden strands of whole wheat spaghetti to create an easy but spectacular dish. This is similar in flavor to my Sicilian Pantry Pasta, but the fennel adds a nice vegetal note. I’m not usually a big fan of fennel, but it loses its licorice flavor in this dish and adds the perfect undertone in flavor.
I have been a little delayed in posting this recipe, because I’ve had a few other things taking up some time lately. Don’t worry though, there are a few posts in the backlog, and they’ll be up soon! In the meantime, try this fantastic pasta that reminds me of the beautiful Sardinian beaches!
Spaghetti con le Sarde
1 package whole wheat spaghetti
1 large or 2 small onions, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
1 pound fresh sardines, filleted and roughly chopped
4 anchovies, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, steeped in 1 tablespoon hot water
parsley, chopped to garnish
toasted breadcrumbs, optional
To make the tomato sauce, heat a tablespoon of the olive oil and saute half the onions and garlic for a minute until translucent. Add the tomato paste and the oregano and allow the paste to rust for a couple minutes. Add the can of tomatoes and the sugar, and stir through. Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until it starts to reduce. This can be done ahead of time, and you can store any extra for other uses.
Bring heavily salted pasta water to boil. Cook the fennel for 5 minutes in the boiling water and then remove with a slotted spoon. Cook the pasta in the fennel water for a minute short of the package instructions, and reserve some pasta water when it’s done.
Meanwhile, simmer the remaining onion and garlic in a tablespoon of the olive oil until softened. Add the fennel and allow to cook together for a few minutes, until any moisture in the pan has evaporated. Remove to a bowl.
Coat the sardine pieces in the flour by tossing together. You don’t have to be too careful with this, you’re not breading each piece. Pour half the remaining olive oil into the pan and saute the sardines in the oil until they start to brown. Add the anchovies and the cooked vegetables. and toss together. Allow to cook together for 5-6 minutes until everything starts to come together.
Add the tomato sauce, reserving some in case you don’t need all of it. Add the raisins, pine nuts, and saffron water and stir to combine. Toss in the spaghetti along with a 1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Allow to cook together for 3-4 minutes, adding more sauce or water depending on if it’s too dry or too thick. Off the heat, drizzle the remaining olive oil and the parsley.
If you would like to add toasted breadcrumbs, and it’s highly encouraged– Italians use breadcrumbs on seafood pasta like they would parmesan on other pasta– I recommend making your own. Grind up some bread (any kind without things added like raisins or olives) in a food processor. Toast in a dry pan with a drizzle of olive oil until golden brown. You can also use panko breadcrumbs to toast, but I prefer homemade.