What do the revolconas potatoes, the Catalan suquet, the all i pebre or the marmitako have in common? Ok yes, potatoes, but what else? All of them are dishes that share an ancient humble and poor origin based on gastronomic abstinence or, so that we understand each other, ‘fill the crop with cheap things’. Never laugh at the potato! A fungus that infected this tuber was the culprit of one of the worst famines that human beings have ever known, thus leading to a great Irish migration at the end of the 19th century. A hydrate with a neutral flavor that appreciates all the ingredients that one can imagine: torreznos and paprika, fish that are impossible to sell or pieces of vegetables were some of the ingredients with which, in Spain, potatoes were seasoned.
These are not the only examples in which humble food has become gourmet: in the rest of the world – and, above all, in Europe – all countries had at some point to adapt and throw out fighting foods to survive. In the case of Italy, for example, they were not very fanatical about potatoes but they had pasta in all sizes and colors. Pasta was -and is- his potato: full, it is forceful and admits an infinity of ingredients, so in crisis situations, it was always more than welcome, no matter how it is now served in spectacular ways in the best restaurants in the world.
Pasta was once the food of the common people, and the most consumed in the area of Sicily was pasta with sarde him: pasta with sardines. It was so poor that it was formerly known vulgarly as ca ‘munnizza pasta, that is, pasta with garbage (in the same way the whitebait was called in Spain and you can see now, what piece of broth they make).
It was a dish that literally came out at zero cost. Let me explain: sardines were one of the fish that served as a hook or that, simply, if it was bitten, it was discarded. Along with these, the other ingredient in the recipe was fennel that grows wild in any Italian meadow: the feast is served. It is said that it was invented by a Saracen cook in the 9th century aboard a ship during the Arab conquest of the island. What do I have here? He thought, well, pasta, sardines, and fennel. And what else? Well, with him he brought saffron, raisins and pine nuts. Tachán. This story about its origin is quite doubtful, but it is true that its ingredients do give off a certain Arab aroma (which is not surprising, because the Arabs spent four centuries in Sicily).
The original elaboration does not contain more than those ingredients, but we will make some small modifications with ingredients from walking around the house, such as, for example, starting with the God and Lord sofrito (base of our diet and of many of our recipes) that, excuse me. Italians will improve the recipe. Instead of going for the sarde e olio version of spaghetti, we opted better for cooking a kind of sardine ragout that will take our pasta to the moon.
Today this dish is one of the best-known Sicilian pasta preparations, but – as happened to the Saracen cook – I couldn’t find fennel and I opted to substitute it for some splendid and seasonal asparagus. We have also chosen to use some good canned sardines, which will speed up the processing time.
Much easier than doing it in the 9th century aboard a warship.
For 4 people
- 2 cans of canned sardines
- 8 green asparagus
- 1 teaspoon pine nuts
- 1 white onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 carrot
- 150 ml of red wine
- 1 tablespoon of soy
- 1 tablespoon Perrins sauce
- 3 tablespoons of a good tomato sauce
- 400 g of pasta to taste
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons of grated aged cheese
- Lemon zest
Open the cans of sardines and drain all the oil in a pan. Reserve four fillets for serving.
Cut the onion, garlic clove and carrot into very small squares. Cut the stems of the asparagus and reserve the tips for garnish.
Start the sauce with the onion, carrot, asparagus and garlic, over medium heat. After a few minutes, when they are golden brown, add the pine nuts and crumbled sardines. Lower the heat and cook for a few minutes. Add the tablespoon of soy, Perrins sauce and red wine. Turn up the heat and evaporate the alcohol.
When it has evaporated, add the tomato sauce and cook until it runs out of liquid.
Cook the pasta in plenty of water and salt for one minute less than the time indicated on the package. Reserve ½ glass of cooking water.
Add the pasta directly from the pot to the pan, turn up the heat and integrate everything well until there is a pasta al dente and a sauce combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with the reserved sardine loins on top, the sautéed asparagus yolks, grated cured cheese and a little lemon zest.
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