Sardines with pasta called bucatini, a thick hollow spaghetti, was always part of the seven-course fish dinner Nonna Saporito served on Christmas Eve. In this version of her recipe, I've substituted Florence fennel for her beloved wild fennel, and canned sardines for fresh, both of which are difficult, if not impossible, to find here.
1/3 cup Filippo Berio olive oil
2/3 cup dried bread crumbs
2 medium onions, finely minced
Three 4-ounce cans sardines in olive oil, drained and coarsely chopped, oil reserved
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup currants
1 pound store-bought bucatini or spaghetti
Leafy tops of 1 bulb fennel, tied together with kitchen string
1/2 teaspoon powdered saffron
Fine sea salt to taste
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Add the remaining olive oil to the pan, then add the onions and cook until the onions are soft. Add the sardines with their oil and cook gently for about 3 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts and currants. Remove from the heat.
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the fennel tops and bucatini or spaghetti, and cook until the pasta is al dente. Just before the pasta is cooked, remove ½ cup of the cooking water and dissolve the saffron in it; set aside. Scoop out the fennel, untie it, and chop the leaves fine. Set aside.
Drain the pasta and add it to the sardine mixture. Heat the pasta and sardines over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Stir in the saffron water and fennel leaves and add the salt.
Place the pasta and sardine mixture on a large serving platter. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and serve immediately.
Note: It is not customary to serve grated cheese on fish pastas.
This recipe is from CELEBRATIONS ITALIAN STYLE by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc., in 1995.
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