I’m no survivalist, but like any responsible chef I like to have a few cans of sardines stocked away, just in case. If times ever gettough, I could survive for hours, maybe days on them; but since things are going pretty well, I decided to dust off a can, and show you my version of Sicily’s famous, pasta con le sarde.

This will work well with many kinds of pasta, but I think bucatini is the best. It’s hollow, which sucks in the sauce, and flavors the noodles from the inside out. And, there’s a lot of flavor to suck. Speaking of which, be sure to get sardines that are packed in olive oil.

The flavor and texture is going to be better, plus you get sardine-infused olive oil that comes packed with the fish, which makes a great addition to our sauce.  By the way, if you can’t get fresh fennel, you can crush up a teaspoon of fennel seeds, and make a pretty decent version using that.

Like I said in the video, if you can get fresh sardines, they’re amazing in this. Fresh sardines are common around here, and they are such a delicious and under-appreciated fish. However, I honestly enjoy this version just as well, and seriously hope you give it a try soon. Enjoy!


  • 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup fennel, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 anchovy filet
  • ¼ cup chopped golden raisins
  • small pinch saffron
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 2 cans sardines packed in olive oil, (4-oz each)
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • pinch red chili flakes
  • salt, to taste
  • ½ lb. bucatini pasta, or thick spaghetti
  • ¼–½ cup reserved pasta water, as needed
  • 3–4 tablespoons roughly chopped fennel fronds, toss some in pasta at the end, and save some for the top
  • toasted breadcrumbs, to garnish


1. Toast breadcrumbs in olive oil until golden and crispy. Set aside. Put sardines in a bowl and break them up, taking this opportunity to remove vertebrae. Pour packing olive oil from can over the sardines. Set aside about 3–4 tablespoons of fennel fronds, and chop off stems, then dice root. Fill a pot with enough salted water for pasta and heat.
2. Put onion and diced fennel into pan with olive oil, and heat over medium heat until vegetables are soft and sweet. Meanwhile, put saffron in mortar and pulverize, then pour wine in. Once onion and fennel are softened, stir in garlic, raisins, and anchovy filet, and cook for about a minute. Add wine & saffron, and cook, stirring, until liquid is almost gone. Add a ladleful of the pasta water (about a cup), and add pepper flakes and pine nuts. Lower heat to a simmer.
3. Cook the pasta so that it’s slightly undercooked. Add sardines to sauce, then put pasta in the sauce pan and turn heat to medium-high. Toss pasta in sauce until it’s done. As needed, as more pasta water so that the sauce remains liquid and pasta is glossy. Add reserved fennel leaves, and taste for seasoning. Plate, and top with bread crumbs and any leftover fennel fronds and toasted pine nuts.


Pasta, Seafood


Chef John


2 servings




European : Mediterranean : Italian