When I think of Palermo, several things come to mind: Targa Florio, the legendary endurance rally race that saw Alfa Romeos and Maseratis zip around the harrowing Sicilian mountain curves years before either LeMans or the Mille Miglia; the Rosanero and their repeated struggles for la salvezza; Pasta con le sarde, the quintessential dish that embodies this unique city.
Though I have been to Italy more than a dozen times over the years, I have only been to Sicily once, and Pasta con le sarde was the ‘must have’ meal wherever I went – whether it be Trapani or Taormina – however it represents Palermo in much the same way Tagliatelle alla Bolognese is to Bologna and Spaghetti alla Carbonara is to Roma. I will recreate this simple yet magnificent dish in my guest edition of TeamEats, I hope you take the time to make this and enjoy it prior to, or while watching, another Juventus victory.
Palermo is a city that has been ruled by seemingly everyone save themselves. The Phoenicians (hailing from modern day Lebanon) claimed the city as their own, as did the Greeks who called it Panormus, or ‘All Port’. Both the Romans and Carthiginians battled over the city, and it thrived under Roman rule until it was sacked by the Vandals. The Byzantines then wrestled rule of Palermo away, only to succumb to the Arabic invasion in 831. In 1072 the Arab reign ended at the hands of the Normans, then centuries later to the House of Bourbon, before the long push to unify Italy began.
This tumultous history is evident in its cuisine, and more specifically, Pasta con le sarde. It marries a thick, long ‘maccaruni’ (dough made ‘by force’, traditionally either Bucatini or Perciatelli) with the salty bounty of the sea (anchovies and sardines), wild fennel easily foraged along the hillsides, along with hints of Moorish influence: sweet golden raisins (sultanas), saffron, and pine nuts. It is an unique as Palermo itself.
There are as many different ways to make Pasta con le sarde as there are ways for Andrea Pirlo to strike a set piece, but I am making (in my opinion) the tastiest version while holding true to the dish I enjoyed in Palermo back when they were in C1, served by a woman who reminded me of Michael Corleone’s bride Apollonia (seriously, I’m not kidding!)
Pasta con le sarde
Price: $18 (add an optional $12 bottle of Sicilian wine!)
Time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4 very hungry Juventus supporters
1. Begin boiling water for pasta. Salt the water well – ‘Salata come il mare’ my Nonna used to say, or “salty like the sea.” Roughly chop the onion and fennel bulb , then sweat in olive oil until soft under medium heat, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the sardines, anchovies, a pinch of sea salt and peperoncino, and tomatoes. (Note: I am using a tomato instead of saffron strands (saffron is the most expensive spice there is.) The omato will give the dish a golden hue, same as the saffron does, without losing any flavor.)
3. When water is boiling, slide in pasta along with a few stalks of fennel. This will add a nice subtle anise flavor to the pasta.
4.Add the pine nuts, raisins and wine. (Soaking them in wine plumps the raisins and adds one extra dimension of flavor.) Gently stir, and all of the ingredients will incorporate nicely.
5. While that simmers on medium low heat (about another 5-6 minutes) gently toast up 2 cups breadcrumbs in a pan (careful not to burn). Simply warming them up. I usually add one ladle of pasta water to the sauce, and when the pasta is ‘al dente’ – and this is key – add the pasta to the sauce and gently meld it all together.
6. Add the toasted bread crumbs to the dish, reserving some so you may sprinkle on after plating the pasta (as you would peccorino cheese, for example, but nobody in Sicily puts cheese on a fish-focused dish such as this).
7. Incorporate the bread crumbs (I use tongs), then plate and serve, adding a few minced fennel fronds if you like. Serve with a well chilled bottle of crisp Sicilian white – I used Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Bianco 2011, a very good value at $11.99.
8. Consume. Sorridere e mangiare! (Smile and eat!)
Mangiare è l’unica cosa che… Conte!
Back by popular demand, TeamEATS is a culinary guide to cooking and consuming the opposition. Each week, we pick a recipe from the home cuisine of Juve’s upcoming adversary, put on the kitchen apron and… cook it and eat it. Buon Appetito!