How to make a classic of Sicilian cooking: Pasta con le sarde alla palermitana, aka pasta with sardines and fennel tops "Palermo style".
500gms– 1.1 lbs. sardine filletscleaned, deboned and halved
5tbspextra virgin olive oil
500gms– 1.1 lbs. fennel topsboiled and chopped
1pinchsaffronmelted in 2 tbsp hot water
Salt & pepper
350gms– 12 oz. Bucatini pastaor Spaghetti
Start by boiling the fennel tops in hot salty water. When soft, take them out of the water with a slotted spoon and keep them aside. Keep the cooking liquid as you will need it to cook your pasta in. This will enhance the flavour of fennel in the final dish. When the fennel tops have cooled down, chop them up.
Toast the breadcrumbs by putting them in a pan over low fire. Stir constantly so it doesn't burn. When the breadcrumbs become golden brown, put the fire off and keep aside.
Put the saffron in a little cup with 2 tablespoons of hot water and keep it aside.
Put the raisins in a little hot water to soften up.
Sauté the onion in a pan with the extra virgin olive oil.
When the onion is translucent, add the anchovy fillets, and cut them up with a wooden spoon. Cook on low fire, until the anchovies melt.
Now add the chopped fennel tops and mix well.
Add the sardines, pine nuts, saffron and drained raisins and mix.
Cook on a low fire for 5 minutes, adding a little cooking liquid from the fennel tops if required, then put the fire off and keep the sauce aside.
Cook the Bucatini in the reserved liquid of the fennel leaves (top it up with some more water if needed) following the steps on How to cook pasta “al dente” in the Techniques page of this site, but drain it 1 minute before it is cooked as it will finish cooking together with the sauce.
Put the drained pasta in the frying pan with the sardine and fennel sauce and mix well while cooking it on a slow flame for 1 or 2 minutes, so that the pasta picks up all the flavour of the sauce.
Serve immediately with some toasted breadcrumbs on the top.