November 29, 2023

Bucatini with sardines and caramelized fennel

Bucatini with sardines and caramelized fennel
Bucatini with sardines and caramelized fennel

This is sort of a simplified version of pasta con le sarde, a Sicilian dish that mixes fennel and sardines with a slew of other pantry ingredients, turning any old tin of sardines into a pasta worth traveling for. Some versions contain pine nuts, capers and currants. Personally, I love the sweetness of yellow raisins, and crushing them before adding them spreads their subtle sweetness throughout the dish. I also like to double the flavors and textures of the fennel, chop some to cook with the onions and garlic, caramelize a few wedges, and top with fennel seed-flavored breadcrumbs and plenty of lacy green fronds.

Cash From the can to the table: Unusual snack recipes for can lovers and A-Fish-Ionados by Anna Hezel

4 servings

  1. Fill a large saucepan with water, add a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil.

  2. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the anchovies and stir until they begin to break down and dissolve in the oil. Stir in the panko and fennel seeds. Cook, stirring, until the breadcrumbs turn light brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and use a spatula or slotted spoon to transfer the breadcrumb mixture to a small bowl. Put aside.

  3. Wash a large handful of fennel fronds and gently wrap them in a tea towel to dry. Roughly chop and set aside.

  4. Remove the outer three or four layers of the fennel bulb and chop. You should be left with a small bulb – about half the weight of the original. Cut into eight columns.

  5. Return the pan to medium-low heat and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Carefully place the fennel slices in the pan, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom. Turn over with tongs and cook on the other side for 5 minutes. Place on a small plate.

  6. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil to the pan, still over medium-low heat, and add the chopped fennel, onion, garlic, and raisins. Cook, stirring, until the onion and fennel are soft and the garlic is fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the white wine and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from stove.

  7. Cook the bucatini in the boiling water according to package directions until al dente (usually 1 minute less than the recommended time). Drain, reserving 1⁄4 cup (60ml) of the cooking water.

  8. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the pasta and reserved cooking water. Using tongs, cook the noodles and mix with the spices until the water has evaporated and the noodles are perfectly cooked. Break the sardines apart with your fingers and add them to the pan. Mix them with the pasta until just warmed through and remove the pan from the heat.

  9. Add half the fennel fronds and half the breadcrumbs to the pasta and divide among four plates. Top with the caramelized fennel slices and the remaining fennel fronds and breadcrumbs.

Reprinted from Tin to Table by Anna Hezel, with permission from Chronicle Books, 2023. Photos © Chelsie Craig. Illustrations © Alex Citrine.