Pasta con Le Sarde

Pasta with Fresh Sardines


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    4 to 6

Appears in

The Italian Regional Cookbook

The Italian Regional Cookbook

By Valentina Harris

Published 2017

  • About

The ingredient that gives this dish its unique aniseed flavour is wild fennel. It is not only used in the sauce, but also flavours the pasta, which is boiled in the water in which the fennel was cooked. Saffron and fresh sardines complete the palette of flavours, unique to this most Sicilian of pasta dishes.


  • 30 ml/2 tbsp sultanas/golden raisins
  • 1 sachet saffron powder
  • 150 g/5 oz wild fennel (leaves and stalks), washed and trimmed
  • 10 ml/2 tsp fine salt
  • 2 litres/3 ½ pints/8 cups cold water
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 90 ml/6 tbsp olive oil
  • 25 g/1 oz/ cup pine nuts
  • 275 g/10 oz fresh or thawed frozen sardines, cleaned, boned and with heads removed
  • 2 whole salted anchovies, boned and washed
  • 400 g/14 oz fresh or dried bucatini, thick perciatelli or other pasta shapes
  • sea salt and ground black pepper


  1. Put the sultanas in a bowl. Pour over warm water to cover and set aside for 15 minutes.

  2. Put the saffron in a separate bowl and stir in 45 ml/3 tbsp cold water.

  3. Meanwhile, put the fennel in a large pan with the salt and the measured water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and cover the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes.

  4. Remove the fennel with a slotted spoon and put it in a strainer until cool enough to handle. Squeeze the fennel in your hands over a bowl to remove the moisture, then put it on to a board and chop it very finely. Set the pan with the cooking water aside.
  5. Put the onion in a large pan and cover generously with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes or until the onion is soft.
  6. Add half the olive oil, the saffron with its soaking water, and the pine nuts to the cooked onion. Drain the sultanas and stir them into the pan. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.
  7. Stir in the chopped fennel and the prepared sardines. Cover the pan and cook over a very low heat, turning the fish frequently, for 4-5 minutes, until the sardines are cooked through.
  8. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, cook the anchovies for 2-3 minutes in the remaining olive oil, mashing them into a smooth purée.

  9. When the sardines are cooked, stir in the anchovy purée. Mix well and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Keep the mixture warm.
  10. Return the pan used for cooking the fennel to the heat. Taste and add salt if necessary. Bring to the boil, add the pasta and stir. Cook fresh pasta for about 4 minutes; dried pasta for 12-14 minutes.
  11. When the pasta is tender, drain it well, transfer it into a warmed bowl and pour over the sauce. Toss thoroughly and serve.