Butterfly Sardines with Breadcrumbs, Raisins, Pine Nuts, Lemon and Mint
At last, winter has left the lagoon. Yes, okay, maybe we haven't actually seen spring and brutally moved from heavy jackets to vests, and yes, okay... maybe it's more humid than sunny... but at least the cold has disappeared and I can't help but feel delighted. It's been the longest winter I can remember and I promise this year I will never complain about our typical summer 'afa' (mugginess)!
Saturday was truly marvellous. I was at work (in a photographic gallery I want to tell you more about soon - if curious, see some of Marco's pics here), with the door wide open and a gentle breeze to bring me comfort. This gallery (it is one of five), is located in Rialto in Calle degli Spezieri, exactly in front of Mascari, the oldest specialty foods store in Venice, so before I started Vito and I seized the occasion to do some shopping and get some fish, greens and spices for our Sunday tidbits. The plan was for me to cook and take my usual photos in the morning, have an early lunch and then wander around some of the many external pavilions present at this art Biennale. I had expressly asked Vito to buy fresh sardines and plenty of fresh veg that we could eat raw, simply sliced and dressed.
Unfortunately not all produce is as it should be, as we had a particularly dry and long winter and then a concentration of heavy rain and hail in May... Fruit especially has been suffering. The apricots are as hard as rocks, whereas oranges -my favourite winter fruit- are still exceptional! As for veg, this is the period of the purple artichoke in Venice (see my previous post on Sant'Erasmo), but the traditional yearly feast had to be postponed for bad weather twice and then was definitely cancelled (but there are plenty of artichokes, so don't worry!).
Anyway, on Sunday we did more or less what we had planned. In the morning I made a revisited version of sardines in 'beccafico' style, which is a traditional Sicilian recipe that comes in three main variants (one typical of Palermo, one of Catania and one of Messina). On Wikipedia I read that the name derives from a bird that used to be eaten filled with its own entrails and interiors by the upper classes, recipe that the poorer tried to imitate using their simpler and cheaper raw materials, thus sardines and breadcrumbs with sultanas and pine nuts. Well, I don't know what you think, but to me.. the poorer dish sounds much more delicious and inviting than the 'posh delicacy'!
There are lots and lots of versions of this recipe, mainly because the basic concept of Italian cuisine is that 'one does with what he has available', and mine is very very basic and super quick. For the filling I replace breadcrumbs with crushed taralli, a sort of round breadstick made with live oil and typical from Apulia. I find that taralli result crunchier and less greasy, so they are one of the ingredients you will always find in my pantry (last year I even made a cake with chocolate and taralli, let me know if you'd like the recipe). To add freshness I replaced the traditional laurel leaves with mint and added some lemon zests in the filling and topping. As for raisins, I used the Greek ones from Corinto, thus darker and smaller than the Sicilian ones. In America I think you call it Thompson Seedless variety, from the name of its first grower. Personally, I love all types of sultanas, but I find that these ones are better for this sort of recipe due to their small size.
The sardines, then, were caught in the Adriatic. To be honest with you, we don't eat as much fish as we used to do in the past. I gave up meat last September for environmental reasons and when we buy fish we make sure it comes from Italy (except anchovies...) and in a sustainable manner. By the way, one of the best exhibitions I've seen so far in Venice is the one by amazing Joan Jonas called Ocean Space, which revolves around life under water, what we have been doing to our see and how much damage we have caused. Unfortunately I am a very impressionable individual and because I am involved in the food industry and have been reading so much about it, I have to deal with all my worries when I do our food shopping. Being just two in the house makes it easy to shop local and fresh, still... I realise there is a lot of work still to do, especially for what concerns plastic consumption. Anyway, I don't want to bore you with these thoughts, it was just a way to explain why lately my recipes are mainly vegetarian ...
Going back to us, the butterfly sardine recipe takes only a few minutes. Vito cleaned the sardines for me then I did the rest and, allow me, they were very flavoursome! We accompanied them with a side salad with lettuce, marinated red onion and capers, some toasted bread and ... that's it! After lunch we went to an elementary school just behind our house to vote for the European elections and then we wandered around some external pavilions. A simple yet wonderful Sunday!
Hope you had a great weekend too and speak to you soon! Meanwhile, have a great week!
BUTTERFLY SARDINES WITH BREADCRUMBS, RAISINS, PINE NUTS, LEMON AND MINT
Prep. Time: 15', Cook Time: 10'
1/2 kg sardines (approx. 30 sardines)
5 taralli ( or 3 tbsp breadcrumbs)
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp raisins
10/12 mint leaves
1 organic lemon
1. To clean the sardines, rinse well under fresh water to remove any scales and start by removing their head, with your thumb scrape out the entrails and rinse again. With your thumb, gently press to separate the bone from the skin and extract it delicately.
2. Crush the taralli and roughly chop with raisins and pine nuts.
3. Grate some lemon zests, chop the mint, and keep aside.
4. On a flat surface, place the sardines skin side down on a piece of parchment paper, pour a few drops of oil and then cover with part of the mixture, the lemon zests and some roughly chopped mint.
5. Pre-heat oven at 180°. Roll the sardines starting from the side of the head. Once rolled, gently press to make sure they stay together.
6. Put in a pan, sprinkle the remaining part of mixture, squeeze some lemon juice, pour a few drops of oil oil and bake for 8/10 minutes at 180°.
7. Serve hot out of the oven. Delicious!