Sardine and Fennel Pasta

By • February 23, 2012 6 Comments

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Author Notes: This is my version of a classic Italian combo: fennel's flavor adding brightness to canned sardines, tossed with pasta for a quick and pantry-friendly meal.

If you can find fresh fennel with full leafy tops still attached, you can use the fronds and the thinner stalks for this recipe, and use the bulbs for something else. Otherwise, use the bulbs and chop them fine.

I’ve deliberately kept this simple, but you can make this even more traditionally Sicilian in any of the following ways:
–Add a few anchovies and cook for 30 seconds just before adding the tomatoes.
–Add saffron or currants soaked in hot water along with the fennel seed and tomatoes.
–Add toasted pine nuts or fried bread crumbs as a garnish.

I originally published this recipe on and my blog at

Serves 4

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion or several shallots
  • 2 cups chopped fennel tops or bulbs or a combination (exact measurements are not critical)
  • 1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 cans (about 8 ounces) bone-in sardines packed in olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound penne or other pasta
  1. Put a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
  2. Heat the olive oil until shimmering in the pan.
  3. Finely chop the onions and saute until the begin to soften. If using fennel bulbs, chop fine and add with the onions. When the onions are soft, roughly chop the fennel fronds (if using) and add to the pan and cook until they brighten in color.
  4. Drain the tomatoes and roughly chop. Add to the pan along with the fennel seed. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Add the sardines and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste but be careful as canned sardines are briney already.
  6. Meanwhile cook the pasta and drain. Stir in the sauce and serve.

More Great Recipes: Entrees|Fish & Seafood|Vegetables|Pasta|Fennel

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