Pasta Con Le Sarde (Pasta with Sardines)

I never thought I’d ever be writing of my love for pasta, nor sharing it with the world. It was a staple dish of my upbringing, but it was never my fondest. As a youngster I only ate plain pasta. Yep that’s right, white pasta alla niente ie. nothing. No sauce, no oil, no butter, not even cheese. It’s obvious really, why it didn't fall into my ‘fond’ category. It was torturous every time a plate of pasta was set before me at the dinner table. I didn't mind the taste at all, of course I would have preferred ice cream, but the torture wasn't from the taste. It was from the constant ‘encouragement’ that came from everyone who wanted me to just try to eat it with something, or anything. How could a little Italian girl growing up in Melbourne not like pasta with tomato sauce (or sugo, as we refer to it)!? It was however my poor onlooking yet encouraging family who were probably tormented the most by my relentless complaints every time pasta was on the menu, which in those days was twice a week. Poor mum just didn’t know what to do with me. Oh I was a fussy child.

Seventeen whole years passed of eating pasta alla niente. It was a slow progression, with the eventual addition of an egg or grated cheese at first, then fresh tomato and spinach, and some time later, finally tomato sauce! My family still gaze at me weirdly, in awe and disbelief, as I enjoy a big plate of pasta covered in rich tomato sugo. My recent time spent in Italy cemented the fact. I’m a fully-fledged pasta convert. In fact, we indulged in plates full of pasta almost daily for 4 blissful weeks. What a joy this was...

Pasta con le sarde, that is, pasta with sardines, is a traditional Sicilian pasta dish. Don’t let the name fool you, because this is not just pasta with sardines as implied. An interesting combination of ingredients makes this pasta one of a kind. For that reason before we even left Australia it was one dish I was already dying to get my teeth into as soon as we hit Sicilian waters. I was so intrigued how these flavours would mesh together. Unfortunately, me being me, I wasn't lucky enough to find this dish ticking all the boxes; if it was gluten free, it had garlic or onion, and if it was garlic free it wasn't gluten free. You get the idea. Despite this we still clearly ate an abundance of pasta! Gluten free pasta, and pizza for that matter, is offered in so many restaurants throughout Italy though rarely advertised on the menu. This meant I got very familiar with the question “Avete pasta o pizza senza glutine?” Most restaurants were also very accommodating to omitting onion and garlic, and I was pleasantly surprised how little was used anyway. Italian cuisine truly embraces simplicity and freshness in a way that is unique and beautiful. All positives aside, I unfortunately did not manage to get my pasta con le sarde. This meant one thing on my return home- I would be getting pasta con le sarde!!

It lived up to and exceeded my expectations, so it’s only fair my first recipe post-travels (and my envy-inducing foodstragrams) I share with you is my FODMAP friendly pasta con le sarde.

The sardines of Sicily may be amazingly irreplaceable, but here in Australia sardines are one of the most sustainable fish we can buy, caught locally and in abundance. For a fish so high in omega-3 and local to our waters, it’s a shame (and a surprise) fresh sardines are so often overlooked in our cooking. I bought these ones pictured from the Queen Vic Market and Robbie so very kindly cleaned and filleted them. But if this is not your style or you’re strapped for time, just use canned, tinned or jarred sardines, you can get some especially tasty ones at delis or specialty grocers. So throw away your preconceptions of boring old sardines and give this pasta a go!

Pasta Con Le Sarde (Pasta with Sardines)
Serves 2

200g spelt or gluten free spaghetti
Olive oil
3 anchovies
1/4 cup cornflake crumbs
Chili flakes
½ medium bulb of fennel, finely sliced
8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
200g fresh sardines (cleaned & filleted) or 1 tin
1/4 cup raisins
3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
Pinch of saffron threads
Fresh parsley

Begin by preparing ingredients. Soak the raisins in hot water for at least 10 minutes. Toast pine nuts in a fry pan then set aside. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in the fry pan, then add anchovies and stir until partially dissolved. Add crumbs and a sprinkle of chili flakes, stir until toasted golden and set aside.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet directions until al dente. Reserve half a cup of the cooking water and add the saffron threads to dissolve.

Meanwhile heat the fry pan with a drizzle of olive oil and sauté fennel until soft and translucent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes, sardines, pine nuts and drained raisins. Fry for 5 minutes until the sardines are cooked, then add the reserved saffron water and simmer for a few minutes.

Stir the drained pasta into the sardine mixture, along with some torn parsley. Serve into plates and generously sprinkle each with the toasted crumbs.

Buon appetite!


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