Sarde a Beccafico

Baked Stuffed Sardines

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Beccafico, literally translated from the Italian as ‘pecker of figs’, are little birds that like to hang by their feet from ripe figs and peck away at the sweet flesh of the fruits. You might (or might not!) see a resemblance between them and the stuffed sardines, with their rounded bellies and beak-like tails. This particular recipe comes from the eastern side of Sicily.

Ingredients

  • 800 g/ lb fresh sardines or thawed frozen sardines
  • 50 g/2 oz/ cup sultanas/golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
  • 120 ml/4 fl oz/½ cup olive oil
  • 60 ml/4 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 50 g/2 oz/ cup pine nuts
  • 30 ml/2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 6 salted anchovies, rinsed, dried and boned
  • 3-4 dried bay leaves

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. If using fresh sardines, slit them along the belly and remove the innards while holding them under running water.

  2. Place each sardine flat on its back, tail pointing towards you. Twist off the head by pulling it towards you so that it comes away with the spine and other bones, leaving the tail intact.

  3. Drain the sultanas and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Put half the oil into a pan and add 15 ml/1 tbsp of the breadcrumbs. Heat, stirring gently, so that the crumbs absorb the oil.

  4. Remove the breadcrumbs from the heat and stir in the sultanas, pine nuts and parsley. Season the stuffing with pepper, then chop the anchovies finely and stir them into the mixture. Add salt if needed.
  5. Using half the remaining oil, liberally grease a baking dish that is large enough to hold all the fish in a single layer.
  6. Insert the stuffing into each of the fish. Depending upon the size of the sardines, you can either put the stuffing into the belly or wrap the flattened fish around the filling and roll them up. Secure with a cocktail stick or toothpick.

  7. Arrange the stuffed sardines in the dish with their tails pointing upwards and the bay leaves tucked in between the fish. Drizzle with the remaining oil and sprinkle over the remaining breadcrumbs.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes and serve immediately or allow to cool. Sardines cooked this way are delicious hot or cold.

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