PASTA WITH FENNEL AND HERRING (PASTA CON LE SARDE)
When Sicilians talk about this dish, they never mention the finocchio (fennel)
that makes it special. Dating from early medieval times, this classic Sicilian recipe
is delicious when made with the right ingredients which are sometimes difficult to
find outside the Mediterranean region. In preparing this recipe, there's really no
substitute for fresh ingredients. The herring described here are large sardines.
Remember that Italians don't sprinkle cheese over pasta dishes made with fish or other seafood. -Stella
This recipe serves four.
1 kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of fennel (tender anise leaves may be substituted if necessary),
500 grams of fresh small herring fillets (actually large sardines as long as 20
centimetres, or about 8 inches)
500 grams of long pasta such as thick spaghetti (bucatini is traditional;
it's long like spaghetti but tubular)
2 medium-size sweet white onions
extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of powdered saffron
50 grams of small raisins
50 grams of pine nuts
3 large anchovy fillets (salted or in oil) finely chopped
Clean the sardines (herring), removing the head, tail and bone.
Cut the fish into pieces about 4 centimetres (2 inches) long.
Thoroughly rinse the fennel and chop it into fine pieces about 2 centimetres long,
removing any thick stalks. Dice the onions and anchovies into very small pieces.
Steam the fennel for 3 or 4 minutes and then strain it thoroughly, but save
the greenish water for the pasta. Boil this water (strain it first) and add the pasta.
Meanwhile, sautè the onions in a large pan for a minute or two in olive oil
until almost transparent. Then mix in the anchovy and herring. Cover the mixture,
occasionally stirring gently. Flaking of the herring is natural. When the rather liquid
mixture is cooked (which should only take a few minutes) minutes, remove from heat
and stir in the saffron, raisins and pine nuts. Add a teaspoon of sugar if desired.
Mix the fennel into the mixture, taking care that the fennel strands don't stick
together too much. The mixture should be as uniform as possible. By now, the pasta
may be ready. Strain the pasta and carefully stir a teaspoon or two of olive oil into it.
Then add the fennel-herring mixture, thoroughly stirring it into the pasta
until it is more or less uniformly distributed. Let the entire mixture set
for a minute or two. Then mix it again, adding a dash of pepper and, if you prefer,
salt, and serve.