Saturday, March 19, 2016

Sicilian Pasta con Sarde - St. Joseph's Pasta

Pope Francis recently reminded Catholics that indulging in elaborate sea food meals during lent (on meatless days) was not in the spirit introspective repentance and preparation for Easter. He is of course correct.  

St. Joseph is the patron saint of Sicily. A hard working man admired for protecting Mary and young Jesus. 

In the spirit of what Pope Francis was saying, St. Joseph Pasta is a simple, but unique pasta dish.  Fennel grows wild all over Sicily and gets green early in the Spring.  The combination of fennel and raisins (also available from the harvest the fall before, I recommend the golden ones) and sardines (caught off the Sicilian coast) along with pasta made this dish accessible to the most modest of households.  Instead of cheese, flavored breadcrumbs are used to garnish (to represent the sawdust left by the carpenter).  The tradition is to also prepare a communal table where anyone from the public (especially the poor) can come and enjoy this meal.  

This is a dish that lends itself to variation (it varies from region to region, village to village, family to family). The sardines can be canned or (if you are lucky to be where they are available) fresh.  Dried cod would also work. I have seen other fish and shellfish substituted and while excellent is obviously different than the traditional dish (but if you don't care for sardines, that is perfectly fine).  I would also suggest a bit of anchovy filet or paste mixed into the sauce (just a filet or two for a family serving chopped is plenty)--a little goes a long way.  The dish also does not have to be tomato based.  White wine and olive oil works very well.  Tarragon and basil are herbs suited for it.  Saffron too, although that gets a bit extravagant.  

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...This is a simple, but classic, Sicilian pasta that has Arabic overtones. The sauce is made with tomatoes, fennel, raisins, sardines and pine nuts. It is usually spooned over a broad or tubular pasta and then topped with a generous sprinkling of toasted breadcrumbs. While I have chosen a simple toss and top application, some cooks prefer to create multiple layers using these ingredients. The breadcrumbs in the dish are used in place of cheese and at one time they actually served that function for the poor. They also have a symbolic importance for those who observe St. Joseph's Day. As you know, Joseph was a carpenter and the breadcrumbs that crown this dish are used because they resemble the sawdust that would be found on the floor of a carpenter's workshop. Pasta con sarde is also known as St. Joseph's pasta, and in those communities where his feast day is still celebrated, you'll find this pasta on family tables, as well as on symbolic altars set up to feed the poor. The dish is easy to make and the sardines give it a unique, though not unpleasant flavor. It, quite simply, tastes of the sea. Raisins are used in Sicilian cooking to provide sweetness and they pair beautifully with the fennel in this recipe. I hope you'll be adventurous and give this earthy peasant dish a try. I really think you'll enjoy it. Here's the recipe. 

Pasta con Sarde - St. Joseph's Pasta...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite adapted from the Cucina Deliziosa Cookbook
Ingredients:Sauce1 pound sardines, canned in olive oil1/4 cup pine nuts, slightly toasted1/4 cup olive oil1/4 cup raisins1/2 cup red wine4 cloves garlic, minced1 (28-ounce) can peeled Italian tomatoes packed in juice, undrained3 tablespoons tomato paste1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds2 teaspoons sugarSalt and pepper to taste1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley1 teaspoon dried oregano1 pound papardelle or bucatini or linguineSt. Joseph's bread crumbsBread Crumbs 1 1/2 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs1 teaspoon olive oil1 teaspoon sugar
Directions:1) To make sauce: In a large pot, saute garlic in oil for 2 minutes. Add undrained tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook over medium heat, stirring and breaking up tomatoes; let cook for about 10 minutes. Add raisins, wine, pine nuts, sardines, fennel seeds, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook at least 30 minutes over low heat. Stir in oregano and parsley and simmer 10 minutes more.2) To make bread crumbs: Toast bread crumbs in olive oil in a frying pan set over low heat. Stir constantly to prevent burning. Remove from heat and add sugar.3) Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Toss pasta with sauce. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings.

The late actor Vincent Schiavelli has excellent recipes from Brooklyn when he was growing up (his grandfather was an accomplished chef from Sicily).  It is tomato less, with toasted pine nuts, which are then mixed with sautéed onion, fennel and golden raisins, skinless boneless sardines packed in oil and some anchovy. He served it over cooked bucatini pasta (linguini would work fine) and again garnished with toasted breadcrumbs.

Staten Island Style St. Joseph Day.


  1. New Orleans has a HUGE St Josephs celebration replete with parades, elaborate alter offerings at various churches, public places and pvt homes throughout the city. Type in html fu has gone south and my link won"t work.


I had to stop Anonymous comments due to spam. But I welcome all legitimate comments. Thanks.