This popular pasta dish is Sicily’s culinary heritage on a plate.
Sicily in Spring. How I would love to be there right now.
Mild sunny days, early seaside walks, breath taking sights of blossoming orange trees and wildflowers, the pulsating Sicilian cities and historic sites still attracting significantly lower numbers of visitors compared to peak season. The reasons to plan a trip to Sicily in Spring are many.
And then, off course, there’s the food.
Italy’s largest island is a place that enjoys a culinary heritage second to none.
Located strategically at the centre of the Mediterranean, Sicily in the past has been ruled by many conquerors from the Greek to the Arabs, Spanish and French. All of them have left their mark on the island’s cultural heritage, and today this is particularly evident in many of the island’s favourite dishes.
Did you know Italy’s number one food, pasta, was created in Sicily – dating back to the 12th century?
The local Sicilian cuisine uses a large range of ingredients you won’t rarely see in other parts of Italy. Many dishes, even though fully recognized as Italian, once you look at the ingredients are starting to feel (and taste) slightly more exotic.
Pasta con le Sarde (pasta with sardines), could be easily declared the best example for the perfect fusion of Italian and Arab cuisines.
It’s one of two famous pasta dishes from Sicily – the second one is Pasta alla Norma – and it’s a must-eat when visiting Sicily. Not much is known about the origins of the recipe, but raisings, pine nuts, and saffron testify of the island’s Moorish heritage.
Pasta con le Sarde is traditionally made with bucatini, a type of pasta that is similar to spaghetti but has a hole running through the centre.
For this particular pasta con le sarde recipe, I am using maccheroni, which are a type of pasta that is very much at home in the Sicilian cuisine. This locally very popular type of pasta used to be made in a much longer shape than today but would typically be broken into smaller pieces just before cooking. Thus, today store bought maccheroni will already come in a shorter shape.
Thanks to the shorter shape and the hole in the centre, maccheroni are perfect to absorb thicker sauces.
The recipe calls for fresh sardines, which can be tricky depending on where you live. If you can’t find fresh sardines, you can use tinned ones instead.
The rich, oily, and fishy sauce calls for a crisp white wine and going with the old proverb, what grows together goes together, my choice has been an excellent white from Sicily.
About Alessandro di Camporeale Winery
Alessandro di Camporeale winery is located in the southwestern part of Sicily, round about 400 metres above sea.
Overlooking the Mandranova Plain in the province of Palermo, a new wine cellar was built in 2000, equipped with automated temperature and humidity control systems, allowing precise control of the best temperature for each wine during production.
Fertile clays and calcareous soils are perfect for the cultivation of autochthone grape varieties like Nero d’Avola, Catarratto and Grillo, as well as the international Syrah.
Work in the vineyards is strictly organic and sustainable, and vines are surrounded by rose bushes, hedges and shrubs to maintain the biodiversity of the soils and to fend off parasites.
Tasting Notes: Grillo di Mandranova 2020
Made with 100% Grillo grapes, the second most planted across Sicily after Carricante.
Grapes for the Grillo di Mandranova are handpicked and carefully selected. Grapes are fermented for 15 days in steel tanks at low temperature while the wine is aged in steel tanks for six months on the fine lees at 10-12°C and two months at 18°C.
In the glass, a straw-yellow with green hues.
On the nose, tropical and citrusy with aromas of grapefruit, papaya, mango, and passion fruit, followed by notes of white peach and elderflower.
On the palate, crisp, bright and penchant with a strong minerality. Long and well-balanced finish.
I have paired the Grillo di Mandranova with the classic Sicilian Maccheroni con le Sarde, but it will likewise match well with other fish dishes such as swordfish or red mullet, shellfish risotto, appetizers and snacks.
Recipe: Maccheroni con le Sarde
500 g maccheroni
1 onion, finely chopped
200 fennel, finely chopped and tops removed
50 ml dry white wine
50 g raisins
50 g pine nuts
pinch of saffron
4 sardines (alternatively 300 g tinned sardines), sliced into small pieces
a squeeze of lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
60 g breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon butter
fresh dill for garnishing
In a large saucepan, cook the pasta as per instructions (usually 8-10 minutes).
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low-medium and add onion, fennel, and anchovies. Cook until soft, about 5-6 minutes.
Turn the heat up again, add white wine and saffron. Reduce until the wine is nearly evaporated. Add raisins and pine nuts, then add the sardines. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the sardines start to disintegrate.
Transfer the cooked maccheroni to the skillet. Gently toss to fully coat the pasta.
Season with a squeeze of lemon.
Heat the butter until melted, add breadcrumbs, and toss until well toasted.
Serve the maccheroni con le sarde drizzled with breadcumbs and some fresh dill.