PASTA CON LE SARDE
This recipe comes from Sicily where fennel grows abundantly in the wild. If you do not grow fennel you might find it quite hard to buy. If so you will have to substitute it with the fennel bulb (including the green frondy tops if you are lucky enough to buy a bulb with them still attached).
Large bunch of fennel
1 onion, chopped
pinch of saffron
4 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 tins of sardines in olive oil
good handful of currants
handful of pine nuts
breadcrumbs (from approx. 2 slices of stale white bread)
clove of garlic
Bucatini pasta (thicker than Spaghetti – with a hollow centre) or other dried pasta
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil (containing at least 5 pints of water). Put in the fennel and blanch for a minute. (If you are using bulb fennel you should slice it and cook it in the boiling water until tender). Lift out the fennel (a blanching basket makes this easier, but you can use a draining spoon). Refresh the fennel under cold water and press to drain the excess water. The water in which you blanched the fennel will be used for cooking the pasta and also in the sauce.
Heat the oven to 150C/Gas Mark 3. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a baking tray (you can use the oil from one of the cans of sardines) and add the clove of garlic, cut into slices, to flavour it. Put into the oven to heat for a couple of minutes and then spread the breadcrumbs out in the tray. Turn them so that they are lightly coated with oil (adding more oil if necessary). Return to the oven so that they toast whilst you cook the sauce.
Put the chopped onion into a frying pan with a ladleful of the water from the pasta pot and a pinch of saffron. Cook over a fairly high heat until the water has evaporated. Meanwhile add two tablespoons of salt to the pasta pot (the water for cooking pasta should be as salty as the sea – it won’t all be absorbed by the pasta) and bring it up to a rolling boil. When the water has evaporated from the onions cook the pasta (if using spaghetti break it in half) putting it into the boiling water and give it one stir to make sure it isn’t stuck together. Check the time because you need to have the sauce ready by the time the pasta has cooked (about 10 minutes but check the pack).
Add the chopped anchovies and the oil from one tin of sardines to the onions. Turn the heat down so that it cooks more gently.
Chop the fennel and add it to the onions together with the pine nuts and raisins. Finally add the sardine fillets. You can slightly loosen the sauce with a little of the pasta water if it needs it, as this will help it to combine smoothly with the pasta.
Check the pasta is cooked by biting it; it should still have a little “bite” in the centre. Drain and toss immediately with the sauce. Top with the toasted breadcrumbs before serving.
MACKEREL WITH GOOSEBERRY SAUCE
Pairing Mackerel with Gooseberries (or sometimes Rhubarb) seems to be a West Country tradition. The sour flavour cuts the oiliness of the mackerel perfectly.
675g/1½ lb gooseberries
25g/1 oz butter
sugar (to taste)
salt, pepper, ginger or nutmeg
salt and pepper
Top and tail the gooseberries then wash them and place them in a saucepan with the butter. Cover and cook over a low heat until they begin to soften and the juices run. Remove the lid and continue to simmer until the gooseberries have collapsed and most of the liquid has evaporated. Since the sharpness of the gooseberries will vary it is difficult to be precise about the amount of sugar they may need but the point of the sauce is that is makes a sharp counterpoint to the oily mackerel. Therefore add it just half a tablespoon at a time with the salt, pepper and ginger or nutmeg. Keep warm or reheat when needed.
Prepare the cleaned mackerel by cutting a couple of diagonal slashes into the flesh on each side and season inside and out. Cook on a hot barbeque or under a preheated grill for about 8 minutes a side.