This is a dish that sums up Sicily for me: the Arabic combination of sultanas, nuts and saffron shows the history of the island, yet the ingredients themselves have been indigenous there since classical times.
If you can’t find wild fennel, use a teaspoon of fennel seeds instead. Soak them whole in a little water – just enough to cover them – for a couple of hours, and add them instead of the wild fennel.
3 salted anchovies or 6 anchovy fillets in oil
120ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
50ml white wine
2 tbsp ’strattu or 1½ tbsp tomato purée
8 fresh sardine fillets
30g pine nuts
a good pinch of saffron (about 20 threads)
3 sprigs of wild fennel, finely chopped, or 1 tsp fennel seeds soaked in a little water (see above)
200g pasta, such as bucatini
If using salted anchovies, rinse and dry them.
Run your thumb gently along the backbone to release it, and you should be able to pull it out easily. If using anchovies in oil, drain them.
Toast the breadcrumbs in a dry pan over a medium heat, until they are quite a dark golden brown.
Take care not to burn them.
Heat half the extra-virgin olive oil in a pan and add the onion.
Sauté until softened but not coloured, then add the anchovies, stirring until they ‘melt’.
Add the wine and bubble up to let it evaporate, then add the ’strattu or purée and bring back to the boil, adding just enough water to give a sauce consistency.
Add the sardine fillets, sultanas, pine nuts, saffron and chopped fennel or soaked seeds. Taste and season with salt and black pepper if necessary, stir and cook for 10 minutes.
Bring a pan of water to the boil, add salt, then put in the pasta and cook for about a minute less than the time given on the packet, so that it is al dente.
Drain, reserving some cooking water.
Toss the pasta with the sardine sauce, adding a little of the pasta cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce, and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs.