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 ¼ 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 ¼ cup)

  • 1 pound spaghetti

  • 1 teaspoon fennel pollen (optional)

  • 2 teaspoons minced or grated orange zest

  • ½ cup coarse fresh bread crumbs


  1. 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.

  2. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons salt; return to a boil.

  3. 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.

  4. Add pasta to boiling water and cook, according to package directions, until just al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup pasta water.

  5. 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.

  6. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and top with remaining fennel fronds, pollen, zest, and breadcrumbs; serve immediately.


Cook's Notes

Also from "Molto Gusto": Broccoli Rabe with Mozzarella Crema, Linguini with Clams, and Penne alla Puttanesca

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