Spaghetti con le Sarde
Fennel pollen, a spice harvested from fennel flowers that are collected at the peak of bloom, has a sweeter and more intense flavor than the fennel seed. Try it in this spaghetti dish from chef Mario Batali's "Molto Gusto" cookbook.
- 1 1/4 pounds fresh sardines or 6 ounces good canned sardines from Spain
- Coarse salt
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 large bulb fennel, trimmed, halved, and chopped, fronds reserved and chopped (about 1/4 cup)
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1 teaspoon fennel pollen (optional)
- 2 teaspoons minced or grated orange zest
- 1/2 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
If using fresh sardines, scrape off any scales with a blunt knife; cut off fins. Cut off head and tail of each fish and slit open down the stomach. Pull out backbone and gut; open up fish and cut two fillets apart. Rinse well under cold running water to remove any blood; pat dry. Coarsely chop fresh or canned sardines.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons salt; return to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup oil in another large pot over medium heat. Add fennel seeds and cook, stirring, until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Add chopped fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sardines and cook, stirring occasionally, until just opaque, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Add pasta to boiling water and cook, according to package directions, until just al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup pasta water.
Add the pasta and 1/4 cup reserved pasta water to the sardine mixture; stir and toss over medium heat until pasta is well coated, adding a splash or two more of reserved pasta water, if necessary, to loosen the sauce. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil; stir in half of the fennel fronds, half of the fennel pollen, if using, half of the orange zest, and half of the breadcrumbs.
Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and top with remaining fennel fronds, pollen, zest, and breadcrumbs; serve immediately.