Food & dining

Seasonal Recipe

Recipe for Sicilian pasta with sardines

Claudia Catalano

Serves 4

Sardines, fennel, raisins, and pine nuts blend harmoniously in this classic Sicilian dish. A specialty of the island’s capital, Palermo, it is traditionally made with wild fennel from the mountain regions and fresh sardines that are boned and pan-fried by locals. Since the nutrient-packed little fish can be difficult to find here, this version uses the canned variety. Splurge on a top-quality brand. With a taste of the sea, the mountains, and the sun, this iconic dish represents the best of the Sicilian table.

1medium bulb fennel
Salt, to taste
14ounces bucatini or thick spaghetti
3tablespoons pine nuts (or use almonds)
2tablespoons olive oil
1medium onion, thinly sliced
2cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3cans (4 ounces each) sardines packed in water, drained
¼cup golden raisins
Extra olive oil (for sprinkling)
1lemon, cut into wedges (for serving)

1. Remove the tops from the fennel, halve it lengthwise, and slice crosswise into thin pieces.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the bucatini or spaghetti for 8 minutes or until it is tender but still has some bite. Dip a heatproof measuring cup into the pasta water and remove ¾ cup.


3. Meanwhile, in a large dry skillet, toast the pine nuts or almonds, shaking the pan constantly, for 3 minutes or until aromatic. Remove from the pan.

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4. Set the skillet over medium-high heat and heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the fennel, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until the vegetables soften.

5. Reserve a few whole sardines for garnish. Add the remaining fish to the skillet. Continue to cook, breaking up the sardines with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes.

6. Add the raisins, pine nuts or almonds, pasta, and pasta cooking water. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, carefully folding the pasta into the sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if you like.

7. On each of 4 deep bowls, arrange pasta and the remaining whole sardines. Sprinkle with olive oil. Garnish with fennel fronds and lemon wedges.

Claudia Catalano