Italian Regional Recipes Primi Piatti: Pasta, Rice, Soups

Sicilian-Style Pasta with Sardine, Wild Fennel and Saffron

Pasta con le Sarde in Italian, is an ancient Sicilian dish of humble origins that over time has become traditional and iconic not only in Sicily but all over Italy. This pasta dish is indeed a Sicilian dish, but above all it is a proper dish of the city of Palermo, in fact it is also called Pasta con le Sarde alla Palermitana.

The ingredients are sardines, wild fennel, saffron, and also raisins and pine nuts and toasted breadcrumbs. It is not uncommon to find a combination of fish with a hint of sweetness given by raisins and pine nuts, just like in Sicilian Swordfish recipe sicilian-swordfish or Sarde a Beccafico sarde-a-beccafico-sicilian-sardine-rolls

Wild fennel grows abundantly in Sicily as well as in the coastal areas of Southern Italy.

The Arab influence in the culinary tradition of Sicily is very strong, in fact this recipe was invented by an Arab cook during the Arab military campaign in the area of Syracuse.

Practically every town and city in Sicily has its own variation. In Messina they are prepared without the addition of saffron and with the final addition of almonds instead of toasted breadcrumbs.

The most commonly used type of pasta is bucatini, however spaghetti and linguine or any other long pasta shape is more than used.

Serves 4, Preparation 40 minutes, Cooking about 20 minutes

  • 400 g long pasta, bucatini or spaghetti or linguine
  • 400 g fresh sardines or sardines in oil
  • 2 bunches of fresh wild fennel
  • 50 g pine nuts
  • 50 g raisins, to soak
  • 3 fillets of desalted anchovies in oil
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste in a tube
  • 1 onion
  • A pinch of saffron powder: 0.15 g to dilute or saffron pistils about 30 threads to dilute
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Breadcrumbs, to taste
  • EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2 tablespoons


In a small bowl, soak the sultanas in warm water for about 15 to 20 minutes. Squeeze and dry them, set aside.
Dilute the saffron powder in a small cup of lukewarm water for about 15-20 minutes, set aside. If using saffron threads, dilute them in a small cup of lukewarm water. Cover and leave to infuse, little by little you will see the water turn into a deep yellow.

Boil the bunches of wild fennel in boiling salted water for about 10-15 minutes, drain, chop it up and set aside, keeping the cooking water in which to cook the pasta later.

If you use fresh sardines, debone them, cut them in half lengthwise, rinse them under water to remove any residue, dry them with absorbent paper and set aside. You can also cut them into chunks.

Chop the onion and brown it in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of EVOO, add the desalted anchovy fillets and let them melt. Add pine nuts, toast them for a few minutes, then add the raisins and a tablespoon of tomato paste, stir well.

Add sardines, raise the flame and brown them on a high flame for 2 mins, lower the flame, add chopped fennel leaves along with diluite saffron, mix everything, add a ladle of the cooking water, a pinch of pepper and cook everything for about 8-10 minutes.

Toast the breadcrumbs in a saucepan with a little oil, set aside.

Bring the water to the boil and cook the pasta, drain it ‘al dente’, add it to the pan with the sardines sauce, mix well, add the toasted breadcrumbs on top and serve.

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    1. Ah great to hear you’ll make it soon with sardines in oil! Shame the fresh ones are not available where you live, but you’ll get such a great Sicilian dish anyway with those ones in a jar 🙂

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