Pasta with sardines and fennel sauce

The wild fennel in Gary Rhodes' sicilian dish can be replaced with fennel seeds
By Gary Rhodes
Pasta with sardines and fennel sauce
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 4 as a main, 8 as a starter
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Effort: easy


For the sauce

  • 500 g wild fennel, washed and trimmed
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 200 ml olive oil
  • 2-3 anchovy fillets, drained
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 75 ml white wine
  • 75 g pine nuts
  • 75 g dried currants
  • 300 g homemade tomato sauce, or passata
  • 500 g fresh sardines, scaled, cleaned, boned, heads and tails removed

For the topping

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • 100 g white breadcrumbs
  • 1 pinches sugar
  • 50 g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 pinches ground cinnamon, optional

To serve

  • semolina flour, for dusting
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 500 g bucatini pasta, or perciatelli

Tips and Suggestions

The ready-made tomato sauce used in this dish is made from crushed tomatoes (passata), onion, herbs, garlic and olive oil. In Sicily they routinely cook and preserve their own during tomato season.

You could replace the wild fennel with 50g fennel seeds, adding them to the frying onion along with the anchovies.

Bucatini, the traditional pasta used for this recipe, looks like thick spaghetti but has a hole running right through the centre.


1. For the sauce: boil the fennel in a large saucepan of salted water for about 20 minutes, until tender. Drain thoroughly, then chop finely and set aside.

2. Sauté the onion in the olive oil until golden, adding the anchovy fillets after a few minutes and letting them melt into the onion.

3. Loosen the tomato purée with the white wine and stir it into the onion. Follow with the chopped fennel, pine nuts, currants and tomato sauce (or passata).

4. Set aside four or five sardines to fry for the garnish and add the remainder to the sauce. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for about 10 minutes (the sardines will break up during cooking).

5. For the topping: heat the oil and garlic cloves together in a small frying pan so that the garlic flavours the oil. Add the breadcrumbs and a pinch each of sugar, salt and pepper and stir constantly until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and crunchy.

6. Add the parsley and (if using) a sprinkling of cinnamon, then remove the crumbs from the pan and set aside.

7. Clean the frying pan, add some fresh olive oil to it and place over a medium-high heat. Dust the reserved sardines in semolina flour and, when the oil is hot, fry the sardines on each side until crisp.

8. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving a ladle or two of the cooking water.

9. Mix the pasta thoroughly with the sauce, adding some of the reserved water if needed to loosen. Garnish with the fried breadcrumbs and crispy sardines and serve.

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