Pasta con le sarde, one of the most famous Sicilian dishes that employs wild fennel. At its best, this frugal dish is a perfect interweaving of sweet and savory. PICTURE: Danny Ghitis
Pasta with sardines and fennel (Serves 6)

Pasta con le sarde, one of the most famous Sicilian dishes that employs wild fennel. At its best, this frugal dish is a perfect interweaving of sweet and savoury. 

Ingredients

1 cup coarse dry breadcrumbs

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Pinch of sugar

57g fresh bushy fennel fronds, wild or cultivated, about 1 large handful

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup currants

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron

1 large onion, diced

2 small fennel bulbs, diced

4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

6 fresh sardines (about 450g), cleaned and filleted

450g bucatini or thick spaghetti

1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Lemon wedges for garnish

Method

Toast breadcrumbs in 2 tablespoons olive oil until golden. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Set aside.

Simmer the fennel fronds in a pot of salted water until tender. Remove and spread out on a platter to cool. Do not discard cooking water. When fronds are cool, chop finely with a large knife (or pulse in a food processor with a little of the cooking water).

Put raisins and currants in a bowl and cover with the white wine and 1/2 cup hot fennel-cooking water. Add crumbled saffron and let ingredients steep together for 10 minutes.

In a large skillet, stew the onions and diced fennel in 6 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add anchovies, ground fennel and coriander seeds, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in reserved fennel fronds. Add the raisin mixture and its liquid and simmer.

Season the sardines with salt and pepper; lay them on top of the onion mixture. Put a lid on the pan and turn off the heat for about 5 minutes, so sardines cook through and are just done. Stir to distribute chunks of fish throughout mixture. (If using canned sardines, simply stir them in.)

Boil the bucatini in the fennel cooking water (add more water to the pot if necessary). Cook until noodles are on the firm side of al dente, then drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Add pasta to pan with onion-sardine mixture, sprinkle pasta lightly with salt and gently toss together, adding a little pasta water to keep everything well moistened. Taste and correct seasoning; it should be well seasoned.

Transfer to a large platter or wide pasta bowl. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, pine nuts and parsley. Garnish with lemon wedges. Add a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

Recipe by David Tanis for The New York Times