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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pasta with Fresh Sardines and Fennel

Seasonal Recipe of the Week
This recipe has all kinds of great flavors. It uses fennel pollen, a spice harvested from fennel flowers that are collected at the peak of bloom, which has a sweeter and more intense flavor than the fennel seed.

1 1/4 pounds fresh sardines
Kosher salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 large bulb fennel, trimmed, halved, and chopped, fronds reserved and chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 pound spaghetti
1 teaspoon fennel pollen
2 teaspoons minced or grated orange zest
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs

To prepare the fresh sardines, scrape off any scales with a blunt knife; cut off fins. Cut off head and tail of each fish and slit open down the stomach. Pull out backbone and gut; open up fish and cut two fillets apart. Rinse well under cold running water to remove any blood; pat dry. Coarsely chop into small pieces, skin on.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons salt; return to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup oil in another large pot over medium heat. Add fennel seeds and cook, stirring, until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Add chopped fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sardines and cook, stirring occasionally, until just opaque, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.Add pasta to boiling water and cook, according to package directions, until just al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup pasta water.Add the pasta and 1/4 cup reserved pasta water to the sardine mixture; stir and toss over medium heat until pasta is well coated, adding a splash or two more of reserved pasta water, if necessary, to loosen the sauce. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil; stir in half of the fennel fronds, half of the fennel pollen, if using, half of the orange zest, and half of the breadcrumbs.Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and top with remaining fennel fronds, pollen, zest, and breadcrumbs; serve immediately.