Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Sarde a beccafico (Sicilian stuffed sardines)

30 minutes to prepare Serves 4



A beccafico.

As usual when she visits Sicily back, my mother has recently come to Milan with a "new" traditional recipe she has discovered.

Sarde a beccafico are butterflied sardines stuffed with a mix of breadcrumbs, pine nuts, raisins and herbs, then rolled up and baked in between fresh bay leaves.
The dish is named after a peculiar and prized species of bird, the beccafico. It feeds on wild figs and used to be hunted and consumed by the Sicilian aristocracy. 
The beccafico was replaced in this popular (and much cheaper) dish by sardines, the tails of which resemble that of the bird.

As with many regional Italian dishes, there are as many recipes for sarde a beccafico as there are Sicilian households. Indeed every major Sicilian town has a slightly different way of preparing them, either in the combination of ingredients or in the way the fish is stuffed and layered.
The version below is typical of Palermo, and showcases a sweet and savoury mix of ingredients that is much loved in the region.
Is there anything more heavenly-sounding than that? 

Here's what you will need for the 4-serving recipe:

20 sardines
50 g fine breadcrumbs
20 g raisins
25 g pine nuts
1 sprig parsley
bay leaves
EVO oil

  1. Working with one sardine at a time, use a knife to remove the head. Without piercing the fish all the way through, use the tip of the knife to loosen the spine and remove the bones from the flesh
  2. Rinse the cavity with running water and transfer the deboned sardine to a small bowl. Lightly season the cavity with salt. Repeat with remaining fish
  3. Soak raisins in warm water for 20 minutes
  4. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease a baking dish with olive oil and keep aside
  5. Rinse the sardines under cold running water then pat dry
  6. In a medium pan set over a low heat, toast the breadcrumbs until golden and crisp, stirring often to avoid burning. Transfer to a bowl and wet with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Stir to dress evenly
  7. Drain the raisins, squeeze dry, then roughly chop them. Add to the breadcrumbs together with the pine nuts, and chopped parsley. Season with a generous dash of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder. Mix all the ingredients together to form a stuffing
  8. Place a small amount of stuffing over each sardine fillet. Roll up the fillets, starting from the head and moving towards the tail. Arrange the rolled-up sardines, tail-side up, on the greased baking dish, and tuck fresh bay leaves between them. Sprinkle any remaining stuffing over them, then drizzle with olive oil and season with a pinch of salt
  9. Bake the sardines for 20–25 minutes at 200°C. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving

In the following, Nutrition Facts of this dish are indicated. Data is provided per serving.

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