If I had to name a quintessential dish of Sicily, a dish that clearly reminds me of my time spent on the Island, I would put Pasta con le Sarde at the top of my list. Pasta, with wild fennel (finocchio), sardines, and bottarga (aka cured tuna roe). Bottarga, like nothing I've ever tasted, adds such a unique element to a plate of pasta, up there in flavor profile with sea urchin and squid ink--all taste briny, like the deep sea. I even smuggled some bottarga back home in my suitcase. However, very sadly, my supply is beginning to dwindle down. So, have begun to contemplate ways to recreate this dish, in lieu of bottarga. I've seen versions of this dish that use anchovies cooked down in olive oil, to replicate that salty, briny taste of bottarga. Not an exact substitute, but a suitable replacement. This dish has quickly become a staple in my weekly repertoire. Quick and easy to prepare, with loads of flavor. —wildgreens
pound linguini or bucatini (used whole wheat linguini)
In a small saucepan, heat the anchovies in 1/3 cup of olive oil. With the back of a wooden spoon, mash the anchovies in the oil until well dissolved. Set aside.
If using fresh sardines prepare as follows: pat the sardines dry. Season with salt and pepper, and a light dusting of flour. Shake off any excess flour. Heat ~ 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat, until the oil is very hot and smoking. Add the sardines to the pan, cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Remove from the pan and place on paper towels to drain. De-bone the sardines. Roughly chop fillets.
Heat a pot of salted water over medium heat. When boiling, add the pasta. Cook to al dente, about 7 minutes.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of the anchovy oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pasta and a touch of the pasta water. Add the sardines, fennel fronds, ground fennel seeds, the rest of the anchovy oil, red pepper flakes, and sea salt to taste. Toss lightly to combine the ingredients and cook until just warmed through, about 1 minute.
Place in a large serving bowl. Sprinkle some toasted breadcrumbs over the top. Garnish with a few fennel fronds.