6 bunches wild fennel
500g sardines, scaled, cleaned
Plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting
150 ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to garnish
Pinch of saffron threads, lightly crushed
1 onion, chopped
80g sultanas, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes, drained and squeezed out
80g pine nuts
4 canned anchovy fillets, soaked in milk for 5 minutes, drained and chopped
Salt and pepper
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the wild fennel, bring back to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and pat dry with paper towels, then chop finely. Reserve the cooking water.
Dust half the fish with flour, shaking off the excess. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan or skillet, add the floured sardines and cook, turning once, until evenly browned, then remove from the heat.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil with garlic and parsley in a shallow pan, add the remaining sardines, pour in 100ml water and simmer for 10–15 minutes. Mix the saffron with a little water in a bowl, then add to the pan, season with salt and pepper and stir to break up the sardines. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Put the onion, remaining oil and 100ml water in a shallow pan and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wild fennel, sultanas, pine nuts and anchovies and simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the reserved cooking water to a boil, add the pasta, bring back to a boil and cook for 8-10 minutes, or according to instructions, until al dente. Drain, return to the pan and drizzle with olive oil, then stir in the saffron sauce and onion and fennel mixture.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Make alternate layers of pasta and fried sardines in an ovenproof dish, ending with a layer of pasta. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Taken from ‘Sicily’ (Phaidon, £24.95). Photograph by Edward Park
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