I was first introduced to pasta with sardines, pine nuts, and raisins by a Sicilian friend in college. When I finally visited Sicily myself, I ate this classic dish every time I got the chance.
There were many variations of this dish; this one with the olive oil-packed sardines and thick breadcrumbs is especially delicious. Save some of the wispy green fennel fronds to sprinkle over the top along with the breadcrumbs.
You can also serve this sauce over polenta or greens.
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium fennel (pull fronds off and save to sprinkle on the top) bulb, thinly sliced (1 cup)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (thinly sliced)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white wine
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup currants
2 3.75 or 4-ounce cans sardines packed in olive oil, drained
Toasted Bread Crumbs (optional)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup whole grain bread crumbs, preferably fresh
8 ounces spaghetti, preferably whole wheat or rice
Dry toast the pine nuts in a medium to large heavy bottomed skillet until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove the pine nuts and set aside.
Add the olive oil along with the fennel and onions to the same skillet and sauté over medium-low heat until the vegetables are very tender and browned, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the tomato paste with the water and mix thoroughly. Add the tomato water, the saffron, the wine, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer about 5 minutes or so uncovered, until the sauce is thickened. Stir in the pine nuts, currants and the sardines and stir gently to heat through. Try to break up the sardines as little as possible. Sprinkle with fresh pepper.
Make the breadcrumbs. Warm the olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until browned and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Bring a 4-quart pot of water to a boil and add a teaspoon salt. Add the pasta and cook about 10 minutes until al dente. Drain, and save a little of the pasta cooking liquid. Use about 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid to thin the sauce. Toss the pasta in the sauce. Serve hot, sprinkled with breadcrumbs and the fennel greens.
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