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Spaghetti with Sardines, Fennel, Saffron, and Crispy Bread Crumbs

Spaghetti with Sardines, Fennel, Saffron, and Crispy Breadcrumbs

Renée Robinson

A Quick and Easy Southern Italian Pasta Dish.

There are many many recipes out there for this classic Southern Italian pasta dish – Pasta con le Sarde or Pasta with Sardines. I don’t have access to fresh sardines and make it with those that come in a tin. I also do not claim any kind of authenticity for the way I make it. I’ve taken the basic ingredients and adapted them to my particular taste. 

For instance, I increase the quantity of freshly diced fennel normally called for in most recipes. Why? Because I love fennel. Same thing goes for the amount of anchovies commonly used. I use more because I think the additional amount balances the flavor of the sweet fennel and raisins. It’s the combination of the fish, pine nuts, golden raisins, onions, saffron, and crispy breadcrumbs that make this recipe such a winner. 

Diced onions and fennel are cooked in olive oil before adding the golden raisins, which have been soaked in vermouth with a pinch of saffron. I use a rather large pinch because I not only love the color, but think saffron’s subtle, yet distinctive flavor adds complexity to the overall dish.

Cooking Onions with Saffron

I also think golden raisins are so much better in this than normal raisins. I once made it with regular raisins and think they’re too deeply sweet for this recipe.

All I can say is this is my rendition of Pasta with Sardines. It’s not authentic, but it’s the way I like it. Feel free to adjust the specific amounts of the ingredients to your liking.

Spaghetti with Sardines, Fennel, Saffron, and Crispy Breadcrumbs

Recipe by Renée Robinson

4 - 6


 Pasta Con Le Sarde or Pasta with Sardines done my way. I add chopped fresh fennel, saffron, and anchovies. Yep, I did, and it is sensational.

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  • 1/2 cup dry vermouth

  • 1/3 cup golden raisins

  • 1 large pinch of saffron

  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel

  • 3/4 cup fresh coarse breadcrumbs

  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pound dried spaghetti

  • 2 cups diced fresh fennel, saving some of the fronds for garnish

  • 1 cup diced yellow onion

  • 2 ounce tin of anchovies, drained

  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

  • 2 4 ounce tins sardines in olive oil, drained

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest


  • Heat vermouth until it is steaming in either a small sauce pan or a bowl in the microwave. Add the raisins and saffron. Set aside
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the ground fennel and cook for about a minute until the fennel is fragrant. Add the breadcrumbs and sauté until they are golden brown. Remove from the heat and add a little salt and pepper.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until just shy of al dente.
  • In the meantime, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and fennel, and cook until softened, but not browned. This should take about 5 minutes. Add the anchovies and hot pepper flakes. Cook for another couple of minutes until the anchovies have melted into the oil. Add the reserved raisins and liquid, cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. Stir in the pine nuts and sardines.
  • Using tongs, remove the spaghetti from the pot of boiling water and put it directly into the skillet containing the sardines and other ingredients. Increase the heat to medium high, add about half a cup of the pasta cooking water and vigorously stir the pasta, adding more pasta water until the spaghetti is al dente and is coated with a lightly creamy sauce. I use about 1 cup of the pasta water.
  • Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice, and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
  • Drizzle with more olive oil and top with the fennel frond leaves, lemon zest, and reserved breadcrumbs. Enjoy!

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