This is one of my favourite pasta dishes, and is a regular mid-week wonder at home, although I have to confess that I don’t often cook it as my wife Emily knocks it up in no time. Food always tastes better when you don’t have to cook it yourself, (more of a surprise on the senses?) which is one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much. It’s a great combination of Sicilian flavours and textures, with fruit, nuts and saffron combined with the sardines and breadcrumbs. This version is from Giorgio Locatelli’s book, Made in Sicily
3 salted anchovies or 6 anchovy fillets in oil
1 ⅔ cups breadcrumbs
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons white wine
2 tablespoons ’strattu (Sicilian tomato confit) or 1 ½ tablespoons tomato purée
8 fresh sardine fillets
3 tablespoons golden raisins
¼ cup pine nuts
Pinch (about 20 threads) saffron
3 sprigs wild fennel, finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, soaked in a little water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ pound pasta, such as bucatini
If using salted anchovies, rinse and dry them. Run your thumb gently along the backbone to release it. You should be able to pull it out easily. If using anchovies in oil, drain them. Toast the breadcrumbs in a dry pan over medium heat until they are quite dark golden brown. Take care not to burn them.
Heat half the extra-virgin olive oil in a pan and add the onion. Sauté until softened but not colored, then add the anchovy fillets, stirring them until they “melt.” Add the wine and let it bubble up and evaporate, then add the ’strattu or purée and return to a boil, adding just enough water to give a sauce consistency. Add the sardine fillets, raisins, pine nuts, saffron, and chopped fennel or soaked seeds. Taste and season if necessary. Stir gently and cook for 10 minutes.
Bring a pan of water to a boil, add salt, then put in the pasta and cook for about a minute less than the time given on the package, so that it is al dente. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water.
Toss the pasta with the sardine sauce and the remaining olive oil, adding a little of the pasta cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs.