I wanted to learn more about Sicilian cooking after reading Lily Prior's sensuous foodie novel, "La Cucina" for the Cook the Books foodie book club. I even treated myself to an early Christmas present (hey, Dan just has to wrap it up) with a copy of "Sicilian Home Cooking: Family Recipes from Gangivecchio" by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001).
I asked my mom if she had any good recipes handed down from my Italian grandfather, but alas, his folks were from Naples and he left the cooking up to my Russian grandma, so there are no heirloom recipes there. Mom did, however, remember a Pasta con Sarde that her friend Marilyn's mother had made for her one St. Joseph's Day (March 19th). I contacted Marilyn, who consulted with her gracious mom, Rose, for this classic Sicilian recipe. St. Joseph's Day usually falls during Lent, so this meatless dish, which always has sardines, fennel and breadcrumbs, is perfect for Lenten feasting. St. Joseph, or San Giuseppe, was the Virgin Mary's husband, and is the patron saint of fathers, the working man, and carpenters. The breadcrumbs in this dish are representative of the ever-present sawdust that carpenters produce.
Rose's delicious recipe uses Cuoco brand "Seasoning for Macaroni with Sardines", which I tracked down at Roma's Import store in Saratoga Springs and which should be available at most larger Italian delis. The Cuoco Seasoning contains wild fennel, sardines, black currents [sic], onion, sunflower oil, salted sardines puree and salt. I easily made this recipe gluten-free for my family by using gluten-free pasta and gluten-free bread crumbs (we always keep a bag in the freezer of gluten-free bread scraps for crumbs and croutons).
Pasta con Sarde alla Rose
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 (14.5 oz.) can Cuoco's Seasoning for Macaroni with Sardines (bright yellow label)
1 lb. pasta
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tsp. garlic powder
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain, rinse in hot water and keep warm.
Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in frying pan. Saute garlic until golden. Add Cuoco's Seasoning. Swirl about 1/4 of the can's worth of water in Cuoco can and add to pan. Bring to boil, slowly, stirring.
Meanwhile, heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil in another frying pan. Add bread crumbs and garlic powder and cook, stirring, until golden brown. Rose advises keeping a close eye on this to avoid burning the crumbs.
Mix cooked pasta with sardine sauce. Top each serving with some crumbs and then sprinkle on grated Parmesan.
While the Crispy Cook really enjoyed the strong fennel taste of this pasta, the Crispettes and Crispy Husband did not, so I ate it myself over the course of several days and enjoyed every bite. It has a slight sweetness from the currants, but I didn't really taste much of the sardines or the salt in the Cuoco seasoning, so this must really blend in.
Rose has generously also provided me with the recipe for her Pasta with Anchovies, which I'll be making soon and will report back on here at the Crispy Cook. Thank you Rose and Marilyn!
For those interested in making a Pasta con Sarde from scratch, The Tornabene cookbook has a delicious sounding Pasta con le Sarde di Nonna Julia. Nonna means grandmother in Italian so you know this is going to be awesomely good. Her ingredients include chopped fennel tops and bottoms, anchovies, fresh sardines, currants, pine nuts and saffron, so I will have to try that sometime. As I don't want to reproduce the recipe without the authors' permission, I will refer you all to a similar Pasta con le Sarde recipe at In Mama's Kitchen.
Look for more Sicilian and Italian gems after the December 15th deadline for submissions to Cook the Books, when I'll be posting the roundup as the first host for this new food-centric book club. Until then.....