Pasta Con Le Sarde

Consider the humble sardine.

Yes, yes, I’m doing it again: rehabilitating foods that odds are you, for some godforsaken reason, don’t eat. Even though these foods are awesome. I’m not going to stop anytime soon. You don’t eat prunes, so I tell you to eat prunes. You don’t eat olives, so [I tell you to eat olives]( for-the-perplexed/). You don’t eat liver, so I tell you – at least those of you without heart conditions – [ to eat liver]( /what-am-i-chopped-liver/).

You don’t eat sardines. You should eat sardines. Here’s a recipe that is better than most of the pasta recipes you’ve made in the past year. Unless you’re Lidia Bastianich. In which case you already know that you should be eating sardines.

This is a traditional Sicilian dish, called Pasta con le sarde, which translates to “Sardonic pasta trick” or, if you want to be accurate instead of interesting, “Pasta with sardines”.

A word on the sardines themselves. Fresh sardines are superb, light, delicious, and completely unavailable to most of us. This recipe is formulated to use store-bought, olive-oil packed sardines that have been sitting on the shelf for God knows how long. Feel free to make it with fresh sardines and let me know how it goes. But I bet it’s better my way.

To make this, you need a couple of cans of sardines, an onion, a bulb of fennel, some currants (or raisins if you don’t have currants), olive oil, some anchovies, and of course pasta. Traditionally, you’d also use some pine nuts in this recipe, but pine nuts tend to go rancid very easily: if you have a choice between using rancid pine nuts and no pine nuts at all, just skip them. Also traditionally, you would soak the currants in water for a while and then drain them before using them. But I always skip that step because I’m lazy, and I frankly don’t notice the difference.

The recipe goes like this: take the sardine oil from the can and put a few tablespoons in a saucepan. Heat it on high and toast some stale bread (1/2 cup to a cup) in the hot oil until they’re nicely browned. Remove the croutons from the oil and save for later. Lower the heat to medium.

Dice an onion and a bulb of fennel.

Add 1/2 cup of olive oil to the pan and keep the heat up. Dice an onion and sweat it until it gets soft. Add the fennel and saute for a few more minutes. Add the the currants, the anchovies, but NOT the sardines, and sauté for another 10 minutes.

While this is going on, cook some pasta. This sauce has a weird nature: it’s heavy, and it will stick nicely, so you don’t want anything too light. Spaghetti is always a good choice, but I could also see this working with bucatini. Personally, I usually use spaghetti because it will catch up the little bits of sardine and the croutons in the tangles perfectly.

A few minutes before the pasta is done, add the sardines and the croutons to the pan and give it a couple of good stirs. When the pasta is finished, drain it, add the pasta straight into the pan with your sauce, toss it, and remove to a serving bowl. Serve and eat immediately.

See? Just like that, now you like sardines.