Not everyone likes sardines, and that’s a shame as they are one of the most nutritious things you can eat. Few foods naturally contain vitamin D, omega-3s, vitamin B12, and calcium in spades, but... sardines do. This Quick Sicilian-Style Pasta puts canned sardines to good use. It is a version of a classic regional dish that can be made in 30 minutes. The sweetness of fennel and currants, the rich taste of pine nuts, and the tartness of lemon beautifully complement the salty flavor of sardines. Topped with the traditional crunch of toasted breadcrumbs, the result is a quick, satisfying pasta with an unexpectedly subtle flavor.
Preheat an oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil.
Meanwhile, soak the currants in just enough warm water to cover for 10 minutes, and if using, dissolve the saffron threads in 2 tablespoons of hot water.
Make the breadcrumbs: Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. To a mixing bowl, add 2 teaspoons of the olive and the homemade breadcrumbs. Toss to coat. Tip onto the prepared sheet and spread into a single layer. Toast in the oven until golden and crisp, about 8-10 minutes. Set aside to cool on the baking sheet.
In a large bowl, combine the drained sardines, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, saffron, chopped fennel leaves, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. With a fork, mash the sardines, then whisk everything into a rough but well-combined paste. Set aside.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook 1 minute less than packet directions. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water. Drain.
Loosen the sardine mixture with 2 tablespoons of the hot pasta water and stir in the parsley. Add the pasta and toss together to combine.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over a medium high flame in a frying pan. Add the sliced garlic. Cook until the garlic just starts to color, about 2 minutes. Add the pine nuts, and when they start to color, roughly 1 minute, add the drained currants. Cook 1-2 minutes more. Add the pasta and sardines to the pan. Toss and mix together for 2 minutes. Add a little more pasta water if needed, a tablespoon at a time. Turn off the heat. Sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.
You can coarsely crumble a thick slice or two of whole wheat bread with your fingers to make the breadcrumbs.
Fennel bulbs are often sold with stalks and fronds attached. This dish is a great use for them. The thicker stems can be used to flavor the pasta water, just put them into the water as you’re heating it through. If you cannot find any fennel with stems and leaves, in step 2 substitute with ½ teaspoon roughly chopped fennel seeds.