Pasta con le sarde (Pasta with Sardines and Wild Fennel)

Pasta con le sarde is a very typical pasta dish from Sicily with a unique flavor. The main ingredients are pasta and sardines as the name implies, but also wild fennel (finocchietto). The latter ingredient may be hard to find outside of Italy, but luckily dill is an acceptable substitute. As with many Sicilian dishes it also includes pine nuts and raisins. Supporting ingredients are onion,  anchovies, and saffron. The combination of sardines, finocchietto (or dill), raisins and pine nuts is a unique flavor that you only find in this dish. The sardines are cooked until they fall apart, and then mixed with the finocchietto and the other ingredients as well as some of the pasta cooking water into a thick sauce that works with either long or short pasta. The usual pasta shapes are bucatini (thick hollow spaghetti, or its slightly thicker cousin from Sicily called perciatelli) or mezzi ziti (also known as mezze maniche; the closest I had in my pantry was full sized ziti, so that is what I used). As usual each family has its own recipe, and there are many variations like adding toasted and ground almond, serving it with breadcrumbs sautéed in olive oil, or replacing the saffron with tomato. Here is my version.


For 3 servings

225 grams (1/2 lb) pasta, bucatini or mezzi ziti (penne or spaghetti would not be traditional, but would definitely work)

225 grams (1/2 lb) sardine fillets, from about 450 grams (1 lb) sardines, chopped

225 grams (1/2 lb) wild fennel (finocchietto, finocchio selvatico, or substitute with dill)

25 grams (2 1/2 Tbsp) raisins, soaked in warm water

25 grams (2 1/2 Tbsp) pine nuts, lightly toasted

1 medium onion, minced

3 anchovy fillets, minced

2 Tbsp olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

pinch of saffron threads or powder


Bring 2.25 litres (9 cups) of water to a boil and add a tablespoon of salt.

Add the finocchietto or dill, lower the heat so the water keeps boiling gently, and cook for 10 minutes.

(I left the dill bundled up so it would be easier to fish out of the water and separate the tender part from the stalks.)

After those 10 minutes, lift the finocchietto or dill out of the water with the strainer.

Reserve the cooking water for the pasta.

Chop the tender (top) part of the finocchietto or dill, but discard the thick tougher stems.

While the finocchietto is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and add a minced onion. Season with salt and stir it over medium heat…

…until soft and fragrant and starting to color, about 10 minutes. Add 3 minced anchovy fillets.

Bring the water back to a boil, and add the pasta. Set a timer for the time indicated on the package for al dente.

Put a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water in a small bowl with a pinch of saffron.

Stir over low heat until the anchovies have melted.

Increase the heat and add 225 grams of chopped sardine fillets.

Stir for a minute until they start to fall apart. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Add 25 grams toasted pine nuts and 25 grams soaked and drained raisins.

Add the chopped finocchietto or dill.

Stir over low heat until the sauce is homogeneous.

When the timer beeps, drain the pasta (but reserve some of the cooking water) and add it to the sauce.

Add a bit of the pasta cooking water…

…and the saffron-infused water, then stir to incorporate.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and add a bit more pasta cooking water if needed.

Serve at once on preheated plates.


Double shelled fava beans with chicken leg and a white wine and chicken reduction sauce: a great combination and the colors are also very nice to look at.


16 thoughts on “Pasta con le sarde (Pasta with Sardines and Wild Fennel)

  1. My ‘knowledge’ of Italian cookery can be roughly divided into two: N and S of Rome 🙂 ! So this is delightfully different: saffron and anchovies melded just has to be tried! Really want to learn using tinned sardines as in rural Australia that is oft the only option!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hi Stefan,
      What a wonderful dish, superbly executed 🙂
      Cheers 🙂
      Here is a different version which I make both with fresh and at other times with canned sardines.
      Having lived in Portugal on the Island of Madeira, fresh sardines were an almost everyday treat, which has spoiled me for “fresh” sardines in most other places.
      However, for this dish, I usually prefer good quality canned sardines 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My favourite (Locatelli?) was the idea of “Pasta con le sarde al mare” which roughly means pasta with the sardines who are still in the sea – so you do the same dish, pasta, fennel fronds, sultanas, pine-nuts – but without the fish!

    Liked by 3 people

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