Pasta al Sarde (Pasta with Sardines and Fennel)

Its fennel season!! As a child my Father used to make me  a wonderful Sicilian pasta dish with fennel, sardines, onions, , pinoli nuts, herbs,tomatoes and toasted bread crumbs..After searching all of NYC for fresh sardines, I finally found some lovely fresh beauties at the Essex St Market yesterday. I asked the monger to debone the little guys but to keep the heads and tails on a couple of them for show on the pasta .The dish is simple and unique and as long as you keep the ingredients fresh, there are a million varieties of preparation. Some Italians  like to caramelize onions and the fennel, add a little wine and sardine,and toast some breadcrumbs and add parsley. Others will add capers or raisins or currants and tomato sauce to the mix. I decided to fry up the sardines in lemon zested panko breadcrumbs and I opted for smashed cherry tomatoes instead of a heavy sauce. Regardless,its a scrumptious dish, cheap, and healthy too. (fennel provides an excellent source for potassium, vitamin c, fiber and folic acid…sardines are loaded with vitamin B-12, calcium, and Vitamin D) I used fresh fettuccine.. you can use your favorite type of course, or even serve this over rice if you like. As a side note, you may replace fennel with celery stalks if you like, but its the lovely subtle anise flavor of the fennel combined with the sardines that works so well here. Also, a tip. I used the boiled water three ways here. First, I threw in the fennel to soften it up before sauteing, then used that same flavored water for cooking the pasta, then used that same water again for moisturizing the sauce.


Pasta al Sarde

(Prep time: 30 mins . Total time 60 mins. Serves 4. Total cost $15-$20)


1 large fennel bulb, quartered. Fennel Hair reserved.

1 large white onion, diced

1/2 lb deboned fresh sardines (about 6 whole fish)

1 cup unflavored breadcrumbs or panko breadcrumbs

1 large lemon, juiced and zested

One pinch of saffron

1/2 cup parsley, coarsley chopped

1/4 cup pinoli nuts (optional)

1 lb small cherry tomatoes, hand crushed or 2 large tomatoes, diced.

3/4 cup olive oil or canola oil for frying, a few tablespoons reserved for drizzling

1 teaspoon anchovy paste

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt (optional)

8 cups water for boiling fennel, then reserved for pasta.

3/4 to 1lb pasta.


In a large pasta pot, bring water to boil.

Quarter the fennel and toss in the boiling water. Add a pinch of salt and saffron to water. Let boil approx 15 mins.


Spread fish on a plate and add lemon juice and a pinch of black pepper and set aside


Meanwhile, in deep dish plate, zest lemon into breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup parsley.Coat the fish evenly with breadcrumb mixture.

In heavy skillet, bring oil to piping hot. Gently place sardines in oil . About 2 mins each side or until golden brown. Remove fish and place on plate with paper towel to drain excess oil. With slotted spoon, remove any excess browned breadcrumbs from oil and reserve them for garnish later.

Remove fennel from water with slotted spoon. Save the water but turn off heat til you are ready to prepare the pasta. Reserve about 2 cups of water for sauce.


Once cooled, slice the fennel in one inch strips.

In large pan, drizzle olive oil  over medium heat and add onions, pinoli nuts  and fennel til golden brown. Add crushed tomatoes, parsley,anchovy paste,red pepper stirring constantly. Add a bit of reserved water and bring down heat and cover. Let simmer for approx 10 mins.


When you are ready to cook the pasta, add 4 of the 6 sardines to the sauce and break up into the mixture, adding more water if needed. Add salt, or pepper to taste.

Cook pasta til al dente. Drain. Mix with half the sardine-fennel sauce,spread remaining sauce over platter, add two whole sardines to the top, sprinkle with fresh parsley and toasted reserved breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil , garnish plate with fennel hair and lemon and serve immediately.

Pasta al Sarde ( pasta with Sardines and Fennel Sauce)
I love Fennel. So healthy for you and they are in season and delicious through May!
Fresh sardines!! Yum!
I added a bit of saffron and salt with the fennel and boiled it a bit. RESERVE the water, you can cook the pasta in it later and add the lovely aromatic water to your sauce too.
Heres the sardines , breaded in lemon zested panko in the frying pan.
The onions, fennel, tomatoes, parsley, nuts, and some reserved water cooking away.
Keep adding a little reserved flavored water to your sauce when you add the sardines. Looking good….
Here’s the pasta all tossed…
Black Shadow 2006 Syrah worked really well with spicy robust dishes like this.

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