This sardine pasta recipe for Pasta con le Sarde is a easy twist on the Sicilian classic, and features bucatini pasta with sardines and fennel.
This post is sponsored by King Oscar.
Pasta con le sarde (a sardines pasta recipe) is a classic Italian pasta dish from Sicily.
It combines a lot of strong flavors– like sardines and fennel– into a surprisingly mild (but flavor-packed) and decadent pasta dish.
This dish has been on my mind for months– hanging out and intimidating me a little.
Because this sardine pasta recipe, which has countless variations from what seems like every Italian chef out there, always seems to feature ingredients that are expensive or hard to find. At least, hard to find where I live.
And so, if this dish has also been tantalizing (and intimidating) you– I’m here to help!
I recommend reading the entire recipe in full before starting, and if you’re not sure if you can find an ingredient– start at the grocery store near you with the most well-stocked shelves.
If there’s an ingredient you’re not sure about, make sure to read through this post for tips on what can and cannot be substituted.
I’ll walk you through this classic seafood pasta, and help make pasta con le sarde an EASY pasta dish!
Want more sardine recipes ideas? Read this: How to Eat Canned Sardines
Sardine Pasta Recipe: Ingredients You Cannot Skip or Substitute
Sardines: A Must for Pasta with Sardines
Don’t skip or substitute the sardines. Otherwise it’s not a sardine pasta recipe.
Let’s all pretend that I winked at everyone right here.
The cross-pack features the smallest, and highest-quality sardines King Oscar sells– and they work perfectly with the other ingredients in this gourmet pasta dish.
Where Can I Find Fennel Seeds?
Fennel seeds are easy to find, and will be in the spice aisle.
Most recipes for pasta con le sarde use ground fennel seed, but I couldn’t find it anywhere, and did not feel like ordering it or grinding my own spices. The unground seeds worked perfectly here.
If you prefer, another option is to lightly grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle before using.
Don’t skip the fennel seeds.
Where Can I Find Fennel?
Fennel is one of those elusive ingredients that I see all the time– until I need it, and then it’s nowhere to be found.
I recommend looking for fennel at the grocery store in your area with the best selection of fresh produce. It is sometimes labelled anise, and has a mild licorice flavor.
Look with the chilled produce, near other green vegetables like bok choy and celery.
Some fennel is sold with the lacy fronds still attached— that’s what you’re looking for. If you can only find fennel without the fronds, you can still use the fennel bulb, you’ll simply lose the flavorful frond garnish.
The fennel is important in this recipe– don’t skip it.
Don’t Skip the Anchovies
If you’re not a regular anchovy eater, you should know that anchovies are phenomenal at boosting flavor. This dish will not “taste like anchovies”– they melt into the sauce seamlessly.
If you love anchovies— you could double the amount used, and add four fillets instead of two.
Sardine Pasta Recipe: Ingredients You Can Substitute or Skip
Should I Use Dried Currants or Raisins?
Dried currants, or Zante currants, are actually made from tiny grapes and not currants!
Why? I have no idea.
But I do know that you can find dried currants (or Zante currants) right next to the raisins at most grocery stores.
If your grocery store doesn’t carry them, or if you already have raisins or golden raisins at home– go ahead and use those.
I prefer dried currants to raisins here, because currants are a lot smaller than raisins, so they distribute a little more evenly through the sauce. But it’s not a dealbreaker– use whatever is most convenient for you.
Why is Saffron So Expensive?
Because it’s made from the tears of baby unicorns.
I joke. Sort of. Saffron is made from the stamens of a variety of crocus flowers, and each stamen is hand picked.
The good news is– you don’t have to add it to your pasta con le sarde.
It does add a subtle, nuanced flavor to the pasta that I like, but if you don’t already have it on hand, or don’t want to shell out the cash– skip it.
What is Bucatini?
Bucatini is a thick, noodle-like pasta. (It’s basically the opposite of angel hair pasta.) It lends a fluffy texture to this noodle dish that I enjoy, but you’ll get all the same flavors with a basic spaghetti.
Avoid using thin pasta with this pasta con le sarde— the toppings are too heavy.
Look for bucatini right next to the spaghetti in well-stocked grocery stores. If you can’t find it, or already have regular spaghetti in your cabinet– that works too!
Can I Use Red Wine Instead of White?
Yes! Usually the only reason I avoid cooking with a red wine is to avoid staining the food.
In this case, white wine is more traditional, but the white wine is dyed red by the currants, red pepper flakes, and saffron anyway.
So go right ahead and substitute a dry red wine if you prefer.
Do I Have to Use Pine Nuts?
Pine nuts add a subtle, mild nutty flavor to this dish. Pine nuts are nice here because they’re a softer nut, so they blend into the pasta mixture.
If you want to use a different nut, I recommend using diced cashews.
If you’re allergic to nuts, skip the pine nuts.
How to Make Pasta Con le Sarde
Prepare the wine mixture:
Warm up a little wine. Add the currants, red chili flakes, and saffron to the wine. Set aside.
Toast the breadcrumbs:
Heat a little olive oil in a pan. Add the fennel seeds and breadcrumbs, and toast until fragrant.
Prepare the pasta:
Start heating a large pot of water. When it comes to a boil, cook the bucatini.
Make the pasta sauce:
Add diced onion and fennel bulb to a large pan, and cook until tender.
Add garlic and anchovies to the onions, and stir until the anchovies dissolve.
Add the pine nuts and sardines, and cook until the sardines are warmed through.
Add the pasta directly to the pot, and toss. Add the breadcrumbs and toss again.
Serve this pasta at your next dinner party, halve the recipe for date night, or enjoy it on a weeknight just because!
Want more PASTA recipes? Try these:
- Bucatini with Roasted Eggplant + Cherry Tomato Sauce from Striped Spatula
- Seafood Alfredo with Scallops and Pumpkin
- Red Wine Pasta
Pasta con le Sarde: Pasta with Sardines
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ¼ cup dried currants, raisins, or golden raisins Use ½ cup for a sweeter pasta
- 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- pinch saffron (optional)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
- ¾ cup breadcrumbs
- 1 pound bucatini or spaghetti
- 1 onion, diced
- ½ medium-sized fennel, bulb cored + diced, fronds roughly diced, stalks discarded. (You should have approximately ¾ cup of diced fennel bulb.) See Recipe Notes
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 2 anchovy fillets
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 8 ounces sardines (2 cans), oil drained King Oscar Brisling Sardines (Cross-Pack) recommended
Prepare Wine Mixture:
- Heat wine in a small saucepan (or in the microwave) until it begins steaming (but not boiling). Remove from heat.
- Add currants, red pepper flakes, and saffron (if using) to the wine. Set aside.
- Add 1 TB olive oil to a large pan over medium-high heat until shimmering.
- Add fennel seeds and breadcrumbs, and stir until breadcrumbs are toasted and the spices are fragrant (about 2-3 minutes). Remove breadcrumbs from pan and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, add the bucatini.
- Boil until al dente (about 6 minutes). Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, and remove pasta from the heat.
Prepare Pasta Sauce:
- Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil over medium heat in the large pan.
- Add the diced onion, fennel bulb (not fronds), and salt. Cook about 8 minutes, until the onion and fennel have softened.
- Add garlic and anchovies, and stir until the anchovies dissolve (about 2-3 minutes).
- Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the reserved wine mixture to the pan, and simmer until most (but not all) of the wine has boiled off. (Stir often.)
- Add the pine nuts and sardines. Stir gently for about 2 minutes, or until the fish is heated through. Remove from heat.
Combine the Pasta + Sauce:
- Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to incorporate. If the sauce seems dry, add a splash of the reserved pasta water. (I usually add at least one splash of pasta water, sometimes two, when cooking this meal.)Tip: If you forgot to reserve pasta water, add a splash of white wine to the sauce instead (not tap water).
- Add the reserved breadcrumbs to the pasta, and toss again.
- Serve immediately, making sure to evenly distribute the sardines, pine nuts, and currants. Garnish with the fennel fronds.
- Bulb: This is the bottom, round part of the veggie. Cut off (and reserve) the stalks and fronds. Cut the bulb in half, and then in half again. Cut out the tough inner core, and dice the bulb.
- Fronds: These are the lacy parts attached to the stalk that look like dill. Remove these from the stalks, and roughly dice.
- Stalks: These are the long, thin pieces coming up from the bulb that look a little like celery. After you’ve removed the fronds, discard the stalks.