One of the most popular dishes among Sicilian families and spearhead of the menus of the region’s typical restaurants, the pasta with sardines is a true symbol of Sicilian cuisine. Today our journey on the Gusti-Bus stops here, meeting some of the ingredients that we have already mentioned in the previous appointments of our gastronomic tour which, as we have already had the opportunity to say, represent the foundations of the Sicilian cuisine.
It is funny to think, and actually it is so, that pasta with sardines is one of the first experiments of “mari e monti” (literally sea and mountains, meaning the combination of sea and mountain related food) dishes in Italy: the recipe in fact is made of a tasty sauce based on sardines, fennel, raisins and pine nuts, a tasty mix with an affordable price, making it ideal to be to protagonist of most of Sicilian meals.
Also in this case, as in many other traditional recipes, the history of pasta with sardines is anything but simple, and indeed it is shrouded in mystery: the most accredited theories date this dish back to the 800, exactly between Byzantine and Arab domination in Sicily. At that time the Eufemio da Messina’s cook, during the advance of the Saracen in Sicily, found himself having to feed the troops with what the territory offered, and so he created a condiment based on sardines (abundant in Sicily), saffron, imported from the Arabs and pine nuts which, known for their detoxifying power, were present in many dishes of the time.
Over the years, the tradition of this particular sauce for pasta has continued from generation to generation, with many variations based on the area of Sicily to which it belongs: if a “white” version without tomato is widespread in Palermo, in Agrigento it is instead used the tomato paste, for an even more decisive taste. Another greedy variant includes toasted breadcrumbs, or it is particularly known, especially for the funny name, “pasta with sardines at sea”, that is pasta with the same ingredients but without sardines (which are at sea, in fact) and therefore based on tomato, raisins, pine nuts and breadcrumbs. The presence of sardines is in fact very linked to seasonality: the most abundant and quality fishing takes place between March and September and, therefore, you have a month to try this tasty Sicilian specialty!