The March 2011 issue of Saveur included a recipe for “Pasta con le Sarde,” in time for Lent. I became nostalgic for “St. Joseph’s Day Pasta,” which this dish epitomized when I was young. March 19 is St. Joseph’s Day in Sicily (this is the same carpenter Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary), which means a celebration of wild fennel, fresh sardines, currants, and saffron. How has this come to be? Read on…
The saint’s day is derived from a very Catholic legend, where during an exceptional drought, Saint Joseph was begged to cause rain so the crops would grow and famine could be averted. When the rain came, to thank the Saint, a feast day was dedicated for his celebration (how Italian is that!). The feast consisted of a collection of food harvested around March 19. So, for the Sicilians in March, that meant wild fennel, fresh sardines, currants, and saffron. This meatless pasta is often garnished with some breadcrumbs, toasted with some minced garlic and olive oil until the crumbs look like straw-colored sand — just the perfect symbol for the carpenter Joseph. My challenge with this recipe: cooking with fresh sardines.
I reduced the amounts in this recipe, in order to make only 6 servings. So I used 12 oz. spaghetti, as opposed to a whole pound. Now I bought my sardines whole, rather than filleted. I tackled the task myself. I sliced each sardine — perhaps five inches long — down long ways to open it up. I then pulled out its few guts, tore out its spine, then cut off its head. You can be sure my cat was nearby, sniffing curiously…
I dutifully fried a few of the filets, coated in semolina flour, to later serve atop the pasta. Notice the sauce is not very tomatoey. Rather, it is a melted, fragrant collection of olive oil, fennel, and onions. Once you add the sardines and anchovies, the incredible fishiness kicks in. I swooned at the scent. The currants, pine nuts, nutmeg, and saffron are also powerhouses.
Of course, you need not be phobic of fresh sardines. When you enjoy all the great flavors of this pasta, you can close your eyes and imagine Sicily in the lush Springtime. The leftovers are wonderful too!
Whole Sardines (1.5 lbs.) = $11.00
RECIPE: a perfect excuse to cook sardines in your pasta sauce
PREP TIME: take time to filet your sardines, then slowly simmer the sauce for nearly an hour
TASTE: sweet fennel, onions, and currants are glossed with olive oil, while a bit of tomato paste and sauce enrich the meatiness of sardines; the slight crunch of toasted breadcrumbs will promote victorious smiles
Next time, I will cook “Popcorn Scallop Tacos with Cilantro-Avocado Crema,” from the April 2011 issue of Cuisine at Home (recipes below). While I’m at it, I’ll also make a variation of Nava Atlas’ “Valencian Rice and Red Beans.” Get ready for more fun, when you come back to see my meal on Monday, June 27.
Popcorn Scallop Tacos
Cuisine at Home, April 2011
Makes 12 tacos
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
2 1/3 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/3 tsp. black pepper
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. black pepper
3+ cups plain panko bread crumbs
6 1/4 cups canola oil, for frying
25 oz. bay scallops, patted dry, seasoned with salt and black pepper
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
12 leaves red leaf lettuce
2 mangoes, pitted, peeled, sliced
3/4 cup sliced red onion
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
Combine cornstarch, 2 1/3 tsp. salt, 2 1/3 tsp. black pepper together in a shallow dish. Set aside.
Whisk eggs, 3/4 tsp. salt, 3/4 tsp. black pepper together in a shallow dish. Set aside. Pour panko into a third shallow dish. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat to 360 degrees.
Dredge each scallop in cornstarch mixture, lightly coating all sides. Dip into egg mixture, then into the panko.
Fry scallops in oil until browned on all sides, 3 minutes total. Remove scallops to a paper-towel lined plate. Season with salt; set aside.
Coat a nonstick skillet with nonstick spray; fry each tortilla over medium heat, 30 seconds per side.
Fill tortillas with lettuce, mango, and onion. Divide scallops among the tacos, then top each taco with Cilantro-Avocado Crema (recipe follows).
Makes 1/2 cup
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 small avocado (or 1/2 large avocado), pitted and peeled
Lime juice, minced jalapeno, salt, pepper to taste
Puree sour cream, cilantro, oil, garlic, and avocado in a food processor until smooth.
Season crema with lime juice, jalapeno, salt, and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.