I have said this once and I’ll say it until I am blue in the face- I love cucina povera aka “poor” cuisine. When the Italians faced hunger during WWII, they foraged buckwheat in the mountains and thus was born delicious hearty dishes like pizzoccheri.

They gathered chestnuts in the woods and created decadent desserts like castagnaccio. And many other foods with wild foods like buckwheat and chestnuts. When Americans had to learn to survive during the depression, they came up with even more depressing meals like ketchup sandwiches and potato soups. While this is not the sort of history I intend to make light of or make jokes about- Italians definitely have l’arte d’arrangiarsi down when it comes to getting by.

They say what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. And what didn’t kill the Italians of the survivalist generations made Italian food culture to be the one of the most sought out cuisines in the world, bringing travelers in by the millions to taste Italian food.

Pasta con le Sarde is a simple pasta dish made with sardines and what is sort of lying around the kitchen (fennel, breadcrumbs, raisins, etc) Recently, I re-made the dish for the first time and in the spirit of cucina povera, I made some variations based on what I had just lying around the kitchen.

This is the recipe I followed, found through Jamie Oliver, a new world chef who found inspiration from the old world, whole-heartedly advocates to the simplicity of good food, accessible to everyone. While his private label of 3 quid pastas has raised a few eyebrows, I still appreciate the work he does in the culinary world.

Ingredients (please note my variations, crossed out!)
  • 6 baby fennel bulbs, including green tops
    6 spring onions and the tops!

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
    more like 3! I am all about healthy fat but there are limits!

  • 1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced

  • 1 tsp saffron threads

  • 40 g sultanas or raisins, soaked in warm water Instead of raisins, because I hate raisins, I used chopped DATES!!

  • 200 g toasted pine nuts too rich for my blood! I had some slivered almonds around and used about 100g of these- so good!

  • 4 sustainably sourced anchovy fillets

  • 12 fresh sustainably sourced fresh sardines, cleaned and boned, heads removed, to produce butterfly fillets

  • 2 tbsp toasted breadcrumbs

  • Bucatini, to serve Whole wheat, organic spaghetti!


Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and sauté the onion, a clove of chopped garlic and chopped green onion, tops too,  for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add a dash of dry white wine, the softened chopped dates and the slivered almonds and simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the anchovies with remaining oil in a small saucepan over low heat for few minutes until they disintegrate, then add to sauce.

Add the sardines to the saucepan and cook for 3–4 minutes. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for a further 3–4 minutes.

Cook pasta in boiling,salted water until al dente. Drain and serve with sauce, sprinkling breadcrumbs on top.

Pasta con Le Sarde (almonds and dates make it great)

…And voila! Not pictured: Wine Pairing of a Washington Chardonnay from Kiona Vineyards (sourced from the Red Mountain AVA). Gotta drink local, right? 😉

I’d say that since Sicilian peasant food and Sicilian cuisine in general has a touch of influence from the more exotic parts of the East, the dates to me tasted better and possibly may have a better gastronomic identity than the raisins. I should write a post about the only food in the world that I hate: raisins. Anyways!

If you want help finding any of these ingredients and you live in the states and furthermore, have a Trader Joe’s near you, Mr. Joe will supply most of these of not all of these needs- especially the slivered almonds! I bet pistachios would work too! I highly suggest this alteration especially since almonds and pistachios have gastronomic identity in Sicilian cuisine, too.

In curious love of cooking,

Curious Appetite

Interested in learning more about Sicilian cuisine? Consider taking a cooking class in Sicily on your next trip to Italy! For more details,  contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the most genuine culinary activities Italy has to offer. Buon appetito!

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