Sardine and Fennel Pasta

February 23, 2012

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
In This Recipe


  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.

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Reviews (6) Questions (0)

6 Reviews

BlueKaleRoad March 1, 2012
Love sardines, love fennel - this looks scrumptious.
Westminstress February 25, 2012
I had all the ingredients on hand so I decided to give this a go. Easy and delicious! <br />The whole family loved it. I used wild planet brand sardines and they added <br />a wonderful smokiness to the sauce. This ones a keeper, thanks for the great recipe!
Author Comment
sarabclever February 25, 2012
So glad you liked it! Except for the fennel, it's so pantry friendly. There's a lot of versions on this I've seen as I understand it's a classic Sicilian recipe but this is how I've gotten used to making it. I can eat sardines from the can but I love having something else to do with them.
LE B. February 24, 2012
Brilliant idea. Must try this.thnx much and congrats! might be neat to add a touch of cream and wine too!
Author Comment
sarabclever February 25, 2012
Those are two never fail ingredients!
CheapBeets February 23, 2012
I have to admit I've never had sardines, but my curiosity has been peaked.