Sicily is one of our most popular destinations, and it’s no wonder when you consider the amazing and diverse gastronomy that you will find on the island. The coastal areas obviously will give you more fish and seafood dishes, including a lot of different preparations of one of the Mediterranean’s prized fish: the sardine.
In the US sardines are found in tins, and not exactly considered a gourmet food. But in Europe, and especially along the Mediterranean coast, they are a staple. If you live in a land-locked state without access to a good fish store, you might have trouble finding fresh sardines. If so, you could try substituting another small fish, but don’t try using canned.
This recipe is “beccafico” style, and it is one of the most popular in Sicily. A beccafico is a small bird, which used to be stuffed and served to the Sicilian nobility. Poorer Sicilians soon learned to mimic the dish using humbler ingredients such as sardines.
Although fish and cheese are not usually combined with fish dishes in Italy, this one does include pecorino or parmigiano (which is easily omitted if you prefer).
Sicily is a fascinating region! Visit and explore its diverse gastronomic traditions on one of our Sicily cooking vacations.
Recipe for Sicilian Sardines “a Beccafico”
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Cook method: Bake
- 1 3/4-2 lbs fresh sardines
- 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 6-8 canned anchovy fillets
- 1 Tbsp grated pecorino cheese (optional)
- 1/4 c. raisins or dried currants
- 1/4 c. pine nuts
- 2 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley
- 1 lemon or orange, thinly sliced (or fresh bay leaves)
- juice of 1 lemon (or orange)
- 2 garlic cloves, whole but crushed
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
1. Prepare the sardines by scaling them, opening them lengthwise at the belly, and removing the innards, the bones, and the heads. Rinse them well, then let them drain on paper towels.
2. Preheat oven to 375F.
3. Sautee the garlic pieces in the olive olive oil in a heavy skillet for 1 minute. Discard the garlic pieces, then add the breadcrumbs and cook for a few seconds more, stirring to combine, then the anchovies, crushing them until they dissolve.
4. Remove from the flame, add the raisins, pine nuts, parsley, and pecorino. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Lay the sardines flat, skin side down, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Put some of the stuffing in the center of each, then roll them to form roulades, starting from the head end and ending at the tail so that the tail sticks up. Secure the roulades with wooden skewers, separating each one with a slice of lemon or orange (or if you have fresh bay leaves you can also use those).
6. Place on a greased baking sheet, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and the lemon or orange juice. If you have leftover filling, you can sprinkle it over the top (or you can sprinkle plain breadcrumbs). Bake for 15 minutes.
7. Serve warm or at room temperature, giving around 4 sardines to each person, depending on the size.
By Peg Kern
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