Anche l’occhio vuole la sua parte (Italian saying)
Even the eyes want their part.
I am always fascinated by the literal and figurative use of language especially to describe particular dishes; for example, pasta ca nocca (Sicilian): the pastais dressed with peas and fresh sardines.
Nocca is a bow or a ribbon in Sicilian. A coloured ribbon or a bow in one’s hair looks attractive – probably at the time Sicilians came up with its name rather than now. . This pasta contains peas, and the contrasting green against the pasta, is eye catching and demands admiration, hence the name. I make the dish even prettier by using farfalle shaped pasta (butterflies) although these look more like bows to me.
pasta, 500g, short pasta (such as farfalle , fusilli or shells)
sardines, 300g fillets
peas, 400g fresh, green, young and shelled
parsley, a small bunch, cut finely
onion, 1 cut finely
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
grated pecorino, to taste
Soften the onion in the extra virgin olive oil.
Add the peas, seasoning and the parsley. Without the lid, stir the contents gently over medium heat until the peas are well coated with the oil and the parsley has softened.
Add a splash of water (or white wine or vegetable stock), cover and cook gently until the peas have softened.
Add the sardines and continue to braise the contents uncovered until the sardines have cooked (only a few minutes) and broken up in the sauce.
As an alternative, I like to lightly fry the sardines separately and then add them to the cooked pasta and the peas. This is not the traditional method for this recipe, but I particularly like to taste individual flavours.
Present with grated pecorino.
In some households a little tomato salsais added to the peas.
Others add wild fennel.
Some use anchovies instead of fresh sardines.
I am really pleased that the three recipes I sent to SBS have been published on the SBS website.
One of the recipes may be selected as part of upcoming food series My Family Feast. Selected recipes will be cooked by Sean Connolly (chef) in a short website and published online during broadcast of the series.
When I invite friends for a meal I like to present something that they may not have tasted before.
A beccafico is a small bird, which feeds on ripe figs – becca (peck) and fico (fig). The sardines when stuffed resemble a beccafico and sarde a beccafico demonstrates a sign of respect for this type of bird, a gourmand who stuffs himself on fresh figs. The beccafichi (plural of beccafico) are also eaten stuffed and cooked in the same way as the sarde (sardines). That is if this bird still exists in Sicily – Italians fancy themselves as great hunters (cacciatori).
There are local variations in the ingredients used for the stuffing, the method of cooking and for the names of the dish in other parts of Sicily. These are my favourite ingredients for this recipe from a combination of local recipes.
fresh sardines, fillets, 700g,
breadcrumbs, 1 cup made with good quality1-3 day old bread
anchovy fillets, 5-8 finely, cut finely
currants, ½ cup
pine nuts, ½ cup
parsley, ¾ cup, cut finely
bay leaves, 10, fresh
garlic, 2 cloves, chopped
lemon, 1, juice and zest
sugar, 1 tablespoon
nutmeg, ½ teaspoon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
Prepare sardines: Scale, gut, butterfly and clean sardines and leave the tail. If you buy fillets, they are sometimes sold without tails – this may not matter, but when the fillet of the sardine is closed around the stuffing, the tail is flicked upright to resemble a bird – and this may be missing. (In the photo there are no tails – photo taken in a restaurant in Monreale, Palermo, December 2007)
Wipe each sardine dry before stuffing.
Preheat oven to 190 C
Prepare the stuffing:
Toast breadcrumbs until golden in about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (I use a non stick fry pan) over a low flame.
Take off heat and cool.
Stir in pine nuts, currants, parsley, anchovies, lemon zest, nutmeg, salt, pepper and garlic.
Add a little more extra virgin olive oil if the mixture is dry.
Place a spoonful of the stuffing in each opened sardine and close it upon itself to resemble a fat bird (any leftover stuffing can be sprinkled on top to seal the fish)
Position each sardine, closely side by side in an oiled baking dish with tail sticking up and place a bay leaf between each fish.
Sprinkle the sardines with lemon juice and any left over stuffing, the sugar the left over oil.
Bake for 20-30 minutes.