As the rest of the country prepares corn beef and cabbage, our family is looking forward to eating this Easy Pasta con le Sarde. Pasta con le sarde is a delicious tomato-based sauce, that is made with fish rather than meat and topped with toasted breadcrumbs instead of cheese. For anyone that is skeptical about a pasta dish that features sardines, this dish is remarkably good.
Viva San Giuseppe!
Pasta con le sarde is a traditional dish that is served in honor of the feast of St. Joseph. St. Joseph’s day is an important holiday in Sicily, and it is celebrated with a completely meatless menu. The tradition began in the middle ages, during a time of famine and extreme drought. The people of Sicily prayed to St. Jospeh, their patron saint, to bring them rain. When the rain finally came, they gave thanks by preparing a large banquet and opening their doors to the needy in their community. The tradition includes erecting a three tiered altar in honor of St. Joseph, which is surrounded by donations, devotions and an abundance of food that will be shared with the poor.
Just as the people of Sicily prayed to St. Joseph for an end to the famine, my mother also turned to St. Joseph at a time of need, and he answered her prayers. She promised that every year she would prepare a St. Joseph’s table in his honor. So, she started holding the event at her church 47 years ago and she continues fulfilling her promise to this day. With the help of a wonderful group of friends, the St. Joseph’s day table feeds over 200 people each year. Covid19 forced her to cancel it last year and this year, but she continues to make the pasta con sarde and sfingi (fried pastry) and shares them with her friends and neighbors. We are looking forward to being able to hold the St. Joseph’s table at the church next year.
If you would like to try other traditional recipe for St. Joseph’s day you must try Sfingi and Fried Artichokes in Pastella. Sfingi is a light airy fried dough dessert that is rolled in sugar! Yummy! The fried artichokes are seasoned with parmesan cheese and herbs. Also yummy!
Pasta Con Sarde
Now that you know the history behind the saint’s day, let’s talk about the pasta con le sarde. Since there was a famine, meat was not readily available. Sicilians had to find a substitute. So they used sardines in place of the meat. They also added fennel and currants which, provide a sweetness that counters the saltiness of the fish. It is truly a wonderful combination!
Since this recipe was going to serve over 200 people, it had to be easy to prepare, and I can tell you that this really is. Mom combines tomato puree with Cuoco seasoning for Macaroni with Sardines, which includes the sardines, fennel, currants, and spices that make up the traditional recipe. As I mentioned earlier, the pasta is topped with toasted and slightly sweetened breadcrumbs rather then cheese. The breadcrumbs represent sawdust. St. Joseph was a carpenter so the muddica (the toasted breadcrumbs) are in honor of his profession.
I have reduced the recipe to feed about 8 people versus the 200 servings that we normally make.
How to make mom’s easy pasta con le sarde
Prepare the Breadcrumbs
- Start by heating a few drops of vegetable oil in a skillet.
- Add 1/4 lb. of plain breadcrumbs and toast just until it turns light brown.
- Remove the breadcrumbs from the heat and allow to cool.
- Add 1/2 tablespoon of sugar to the bread crumbs, mix well and store in a covered container.
Prepare the Sauce
- Heat olive oil in a saucepan.
- Add onion and garlic and sauté until they are tender.
- Add the Cuoco Macaroni with Sarde seasoning (found in most supermarkets or specialty food store) and mix well. Cook for a minute or two, until the mixture begins to simmer.
- Add in the puree and water, sugar, salt and pepper.
- When the sauce begins to boil, add a pinch of baking soda and stir until all of the foam dissipates.
- Continue to cook the sauce on low heat for about an hour to thicken it a bit.
- Cook 1 lb. of spaghetti or bucatini according to package directions.
- After you have completely drained the pasta, return it to the pasta pot and add several ladles of sauce. Mix it to make sure that all of the pasta as been coated with some sauce.
- Serve the pasta with additional sauce and pass the breadcrumbs for sprinkling over the top.
Easy Pasta con le Sarde
- 3 tbsp. Olive Oil
- ½ Onion diced
- 2 cloves Garlic minced
- 14¼ oz. Cuoco Seasoning for Macaroni with Sardines
- 30 oz. Tomato Puree
- 30 oz. Water
- 1 tbsp Salt
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- ¼ tsp. Black Pepper ground
- 1 pinch Baking soda
- ¼ lb. Breadcrumbs plain
- ½ tbsp. Sugar
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan.
- Add the onion and the garlic to the oil and sauté until the onion is tender, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the Cuoco Seasoning for Macaroni with Sardines. Allow this to cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add the tomato puree and water. Stir well.
- Bring to a slow boil and add the sugar, salt and pepper.
- Cook for 10 minutes and add the pinch of baking soda. Stir until all of the bubbles disappear.
- Allow the sauce to cook over low heat for about an hour. The sauce will thicken.
- Serve the sauce over spaghetti or bucatini pasta and top with toasted bread crumbs (optional)
- Heat a few drops of vegetable oil in a skillet.
- Add the breadcrumbs to the skillet and cook stir often until the breadcrumbs are lightly toasted.
- Transfer the breadcrumbs to a bowl and allow them to cool for a few minutes.
- Stir in the sugar and transfer them to an airtight container.