This wonder of the Sicilian (particularly Palermo) cooking seems to have been created by chance during the siege of the Arabs in Sicily. It seems that the person assigned to the nourishment of General Eufemio’s army, not having anything else available than pasta and sardines, besides not so fresh ones, used what the nature offered him in the surroundings, i.e. the wild fennels that grew up spontaneously.
They were very tasty and had a strong characteristic smell which softened the smell not so agreeable of the sardines. He also added the pine-kernels, which by that time were considered as a panacea for food poisonings, thus avoiding the drawbacks that could come from eating the food he used.
600 gr. Macaroncini
800 gr. Fresh sardines without fishbone, head and tail
50 gr. passolina (it’s a very little black grapes which grows only in some areas of Sicily. If you don’t have any, you can use currants or raisins which anyway have a sweeter flavour with respect to passoline)
50 gr. pine-kernels
4 salted sardines
8 little bunches of wild fennels (approx. 1 kg.)
extra-virgin olive oil (approx. half a glass)
2 packages of saffron
salt to taste
pepper to taste
100 gr. Toasted breadcrumbs
Clean the wild fennels, boil them, drain them, mince them and put them aside together with the cooking water. Pour the extra-virgin olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the minced onions in it, together with the salt sardines, which will have been melt apart in a little saucepan with some drops of extra-virgin olive oil and the passoline and the pine-kernels already softened in warm water and squeezed. Add the minced wild fennels and the sardines without fishbone . Mix with a wooden spoon, caring about mincing the sardines. When the fish is well cooked, define the sauce adding a package of saffron melted in warm water, add salt and pepper to taste (if necessary) and put it aside.
Boil the pasta just slightly firm in the boiling water used for the wild fennels, in which we will have melt the other package of saffron (if necessary add more water). Drain the pasta, mix it with the sauce and serve sprinkling the toasted breadcrumbs on it. It’s worth trying the toasted breadcrumbs to which we will have added two teaspoons of powdered sugar, the result is excellent. Pasta with sardines must be eaten warm but cold is also good.
There also is another variation of the pasta with sardines that must be cooked in the oven. You can proceed the same way as above, until when it is ready to be served. Now, grease a pan and pour some toasted breadcrumbs in it, so that it covers its bottom and edges, and pour the pasta well mixed with the sauce in it. In the end sprinkle with some more toasted breadcrumbs. Put in preheated 180 °oven approx. 10 minutes. This pasta is also very good if served cold.