Category Archives: fennel

Pasta con le Sarde

Lo Jacono: Palermo; Fonds Ancely: Arrivée des marchandes de sardines; Old Map – Wikimedia.

This post will conclude my bolero with sardines. By now you are probably no longer surprised with my most strange obsession (especially considering how many people hate this fish), thinking: ‘’The woman went nuts and is probably now walking the fish market daily whispering to sardines…’’ or that I might soon become like this guy
The truth is simple though. We recently visited new Sicilian restaurant Scarpetta (at 4525 avenue du Parc in Plateau, Montreal) and I was very much impressed with their food and service, especially with chef’s (Monick Gilles) Pasta con Sarde alla Palermitana.  It was really different, exotic and tasted nothing like any pasta I ever tried before.  Inspired, I googled for the classic recipe of the dish and soon found myself in the kitchen gutting a pile of fresh sardines again (see the tips in sardine: part I). 

And, since I promised you to post this recipe during my last sardine adventure, here you are. This is an authentic Sicilian dish created during (over 200-years) invasion by Saracens (Moors). It combines typically Sicilian ingredients including: pasta, sardines, pine nuts, wild fennel and saffron in an extremely tasty and different twist.

In the island of Sicily they add some briny cured fish roe (from tuna, swordfish or grey mullet) called bottarga to spice up the dish, which in our case, is substituted with anchovies. Upgrade your pasta to whole wheat if you want or, for gluten-free version, feel free to use gluten-free pasta, crumbs and fish dusting. The result will still be uber-delicious, since the devil is in the sardine-fennel sauce.
I wholeheartedly recommend this dish to any curious, open-minded and adventurous cooking enthusiast (and/or sardines’ lover).

Lois- Auguste Veillon: Les pêcheurs de la région de Naples – Wikimedia

Buono Appetito!
PASTA CON LE SARDE (Pasta with Sardines)
Yields: 6-8 servings.
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
4-6 tbsp olive oil
6 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
1 lb (500 g) fresh sardine fillets
2 tbsp plain flour or semolina, for dusting fish
½ cup sultanas (small raisins)
½ cup pine nuts
Pinch of saffron
50 ml dry white wine
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ tbsp. tomato puree
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
1 lb pasta, such as bucatini, maccheroncini or spagetti
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Few springs of fennel greens (or parsley) for garnish
Soak saffron in white wine.

In a large frying pan heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil, add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring until golden, for about 5 minutes. Remove the crumbs and toss with Parmesan. Set aside.
Bring a big pot of water (8 cups) to boil and boil sliced fennel for about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve the boiling liquid.
Dust half of the fish with semolina or flour (I used cornmeal). Heat the skillet with 1tbsp. olive oil and fry sardines turning once until browned. Set aside for garnish.

Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet and sauté anchovies and onions over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until anchovies start to turn into paste and the onions become translucent. Add fennel and sauté for 5 minutes. Add pine nuts, raisins, salt and pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
In a separate skillet, heat the remaining olive oil to medium high and add the rest of the sardines. Crush them in chunks with spatula as they cook. After 2 minutes, add saffron with wine, garlic and parsley. Mix well, stir for another 2 minutes and add salt and pepper. Set aside.
Boil pasta until aldente using fennel water (add extra water for boiling as per instructions of the package). Drain. Put in the bowl and dress with half the sardine sauce.
Put a layer of dressed pasta in an ovenproof casserole. Top with a layer of sardine sauce, layer of fennel sauce and then another layer of pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan breadcrumbs. Cover and bake for 15 minutes at 350F. Serve hot or cold garnished with extra fried sardines, fennel springs or chopped parsley.

Adapted from: Sicily Food and Cookery, Phaidon, 2013

Say Sardine: Part II

This is one of my all-time dinner favorites: Canned Sardines Pasta Bolognese.  Easy, inexpensive, utterly delicious + HEALTHY (quick reminder: not only sardines are a super-food, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, iron and B vitamins; because they are short-lived, they don’t accumulate pollutants in their bodies). A little tribute to the humble canned sardines which seem to be making their come back in the last few years. 

Yesterday we had one of those nights when everyone was just zombie-dead exhausted:  time when it’s good to make a nourishing familiar dish you’re so used to cook you can almost make it blindfolded. I have a short list of such dishes and this one is one of them.  I’ve been doing it for so long I don’t even have to switch on my brain: my hands kick into gear for me! 
The origin of the dish table travels me straight to Tuscany. It was one of those summers, which almost never happens in a normal human’s life. When all we had to do (with my best friend) was wandering around the hottest Italian destinations, trying exotic food and practicing the basics of Italian. Almost like Eat, Pray, Love, except we were students in our early twenties and money or responsibility was not an issue (or so we thought) and we did not pray much.  We settled in the picturesque town of Livorno in one of those cute houses on Piazza Grande next to Duomo. 
One day we decided to cook a rabbit with olives and white wine, but forgot to lower the oven temperature and left for a day to visit the Capri Island (what were we thinking?) …  When we returned six hours later, there were a lot of pompieres (firefighters) around the house. One carabiniere(policeman) was carrying out with an outstretched hand our charred skillet with almost crystallized pitch black rabbit emanating a lot of smoke. We wondered whether to laugh or cry… Fortunately, there was no other damage (otherwise I would probably be now writing this in Italian), except lots of smoke in the house.  
Photo Credit: Irene Sirenko
We stayed up late moving our stuff to the other part of the house which was not touched by the smoke. Everything was already closed and our stomachs were growling.  The lady of the house had a pity on us and made us this quick canned sardine pasta Bolognese which she served with some cheap red wine. Our ‘’soiree’’ kicked off at 11p.m. and this was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in life. I couldn’t believe that one can actually turn a can of plain sardines into this blissful fishy extravaganza! Naturally, I took notes of the recipe and have been making the dish for many years, although I haven’t seen it in any books of Italian recipes so far.
This is exactly a 15 minutes prep dish, which you can upgrade using whole wheat pasta and number of additions like: lemon zest, capers, olives, toasted crumbs, etc. I noticed even non-pescetarians quite often love this dish.

But what if you are a proud Sicilian or just a bit finicky to eat this quick adaptation and would still prefer the real pasta con le sarde?  Then you will have to read my next post. Cheers!

1 pound spaghetti (or your choice of pasta)
2 cans of sardines in olive oil, drained and mashed with fork
¼ cup olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
6 anchovies, rinsed and minced
½ cup tomato coulis (or tomato sauce)
1-2 teaspoons chili pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Zest & juice of ½ lemon (optional)
1 tbsp capers (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Meanwhile, heat the skillet with olive oil, add chili flakes and garlic and cook on medium high for 1-2 minutes. Add minced anchovies and give them a stir mashing them with spatula for 1 minute. Add parsley and mashed sardines. Once the mix sizzles, add tomato coulis (or sauce) and sauté for another few minutes. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and capers and mix well. Reserve some sardine sauce to garnish. When pasta is done, drain and add to the skillet with the sardine mixture. Toss well and serve immediately garnished with extra sauce and parmesan or pecorino and toasted bread on a side. Enjoy!

Shrimp & Fish Soup à la Provençal

Another soup with shrimp bursting with flavours and textures:  a mix of elements from Southern bouillabaisse and Northern chowder … How’s that for eclectic?

It might look like an elaborate dish but the process of preparation is simple and straightforward and  you can have a great dinner ready in a flash. I love the background Provencal taste and versatility of this soup: you can replace the ingredients almost as you please. Make it vegetarian by swapping fish & shrimp for green beans, pasta and pistou; stock for vegetarian and, voilà, a take on Ina Garten’s Provencal Vegetable Soup. Or, if you have a variety of small fresh fish and some mussels – skip the potatoes and carrots and bring the assorted fish and seafood in, add some zesty roux and you gotcha – home-made bouillabaisse…

Although this soup is featuring fish and crustaceans prominently, the real star of it is a small fennel bulb and/or crushed fennel seeds. Yep, that is the ingredient that delivers a unique taste of Provence in combination with saffron, garlic, tomatoes, wine and stock. Not to mention how famously well it goes with fish, potatoes and olives.  Anise is another name used for fennel, the smell and flavor of which many find difficult to warm to, but if you are already a fan of bouillabaissethis should not be an issue.  I noticed long time ago that sometimes those who like fennel don’t like dill and vice versa (kind of Southern vs Northern taste), but hopefully the combination of both in this dish will bring more converts from both sides.
This soup is seriously packed with good-for-you stuff, but first a few more words about fennel. In addition to the dramatic list of its health benefits of this herb, it is considered to be one of the 9 sacred herbs of Anglo-Saxons. And here are some few curious historical facts about this mysterious plant (you might or might not know about):
– In Ancient Greece, the word marathon meant ‘’place of fennel’. The battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. which happened in a plain with fennel was named after it. Consequently, the name of long-distance endurance race, the ‘’marathon’’, comes from the legend of those times when a Greek runner who was sent from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. He ran the whole distance non-stop, and collapsed from exhaustion upon reaching the destination and proclaiming ‘’We have won!’’

–  According to the Greek myth, the fire was stolen from the gods by Prometheus, who hid it in a hollow fennel stalk (and paid a big price for that as we know).
– The ancient Romans believed that chewing fennel controls the obesity.
– In Medieval times fennel was put in the keyholes to keep out ghosts and spirits, particularly on Midsummer’s Eve when evil spirits were thought to roam freely as the sun turned southwards.
Fennel has been used with preparing fish since long time ago. Nicholas Culpepper, English botanist and physician of the mid 1600s wrote that fennel ‘’consumes that phlegmatic humour, which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it; I suppose the reason for its benefit this way is because it is an herb of Mercury and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces.’’
The Ancient Romans, Chinese and Hindus used fennel as an antidote to poisons. According to Culpepper, fennel was an effective antidote for poisonous mushrooms and snake bites and was used as a treatment for the bites of rabid dogs.
Back to our soup. Here are some useful tips on this wonderful and hearty concoction.
Selecting fish & shrimp: I used salmon fillets and peeled Nordic shrimp this time and it worked very well. Most of the time, however, I find salmon a bit boring and use white, firm cold water fish, such as, grouper, haddock or cod.  As for the shrimp, please feel free to use the crustacean of your choice.
Giving your soup a heft: I am not a big fan of flour or starch thickening, so when I wish to make my soup heavier, I just add a few tablespoons of corn meal (which is neutral and gluten free) 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
Step No. 1: boiling potatoes and carrots separately will help them to cook faster than when they are in the acidic environment. Step No. 2: when sautéing veggies, let them sit in the frying pan a little bit before stirring to allow a bit of caramelizing, don’t just jump on stirring all the time.  Add a bit of water or wine if your veggies stick to the skillet. Step No.3: While it’s good to have a tasty home-made broth added to it, you will still have a very palatable result without it – just replace the stock with boiled water.
Killer App: If you don’t have any fresh fennel, use some crashed fennel seeds for that Southern kick and make a cultural substitution, i.e. celery instead of fennel bulb.

Optionally, add black or green olives and/or capers into the plates when ladling soup in for an extra Mediterranean kick.  Enjoy!
Shrimp & Fish Soup à la Provençal
2 cups of water
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small carrot, peeled and cubed
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fennel seeds crushed (optional)
½ tsp chili flakes
Pinch of saffron (optional)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white part only, julienned
1 small fennel bulb (or 2 celery stalks), fronds removed, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can (14 oz) tomatoes
½ cup dry white wine (or 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons fresh dill (or parsley), chopped
½ lb salmon (grouper, haddock, or other white firm fish) fillet
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
 4 cups fish (or chicken) stock
Salt & pepper to taste
Fresh dill, chopped for garnish
In a large pot, add potatoes, carrots and bay leaves; cover with 2 cups of water, bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  Set aside.
In the meantime, cut the fish into small cubes and put aside along with shrimps.
Heat the olive oil, butter, chili flakes and fennel seeds in the skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion, leek, fennel and garlic and sauté over the medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the veggies softened. Add tomatoes and sauté for another 2 minutes until they begin to break down. Add wine, increase to high heat and stir for 2 minutes. Add fish and shrimp* and sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Add stock, orange zest and bring to boil. Incorporate with cooked potatoes and carrots. Bring to boil, skim the foam (if any) and simmer stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Verify the seasoning. Ladle the soup into plates and serve immediately with lemon wedges and crusted bread on the side. 
*If shrimp is already cooked, add it to the soup 2 minutes before the end.