Caramelized Fennel, Celery, and Sardine Pasta

Photo: John Kernick
Prep Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
25 mins

This version of pasta con le sarde, a heart-healthy Sicilian classic, uses tinned sardines rather than fresh, cutting down on prep time. Sardine bones, softened during canning, are barely noticeable -- and full of calcium.


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

  • 1 large bulb fennel, trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced, plus ¼ cup chopped fennel fronds

  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced on the bias, plus ¼ cup celery leaves

  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 10 ounces short tubular whole-wheat pasta, such as penne rigate or elicoidali

  • Grated zest of 1 lemon

  • 1 can (4.2 ounces) sardines packed in olive oil, drained


  1. Heat oil in a large straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add fennel, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and deep golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

  2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain.

  3. Add pasta and pasta water to skillet with vegetables. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring to coat pasta, until warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in fennel fronds, celery leaves, and lemon zest. Break up sardines into large pieces and gently fold into pasta. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil.

Cook's Notes

If whole-wheat pasta is a tough sell in your house, try a multigrain brand.

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