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Saturday, August 20, 2011

In the Kitchen with David: Pasta with Sardines and Currants

My husband wooed me with cooking.  He insisted on cooking for me on most of our first dates, after which I gained about ten pounds (OK, that and an incipient thyroid condition caused the weight gain, to be fair). 

Even though I shoo him out of the kitchen most nights, David is a great cook.  So last night, after working for a full day, standing in three separate lines for an hour to pick up my bib for tomorrow's half-marathon and running errands on the way home, I was more than happy to not cook. 

One of David's great skills is making homemade pasta.  We have an old-fashioned, hand-cranked pasta maker, the backs of our dining-room chairs serve as drying racks and the flour goes everywhere.  This isn't a tidy process, mind you, but I'm not complaining.

An action shot of David cranking the pasta (yes, deliberately blurry--he was working that machine).
In keeping with the Italian food in our house of late, David made a Sicilian-style pasta with chunks of sardine, currants and fennel.  We also had bruschetta topped with a sauté of kale, white beans, lemon juice, sweet Washington onions and olive oil:

But the pasta is the main story:  savory, sweet and salty--a perfect combination for a rainy Friday night and not a bad start for carb-loading for tomorrow's race.  You don't have to make your own pasta, but it sure doesn't hurt. 

I was initially skeptical about the big chunks of sardines--but this pasta was wicked good.
 David's Pasta with Sardines and Currants
Adapted from

1 large fennel bulb, with fronds and stalks removed (reserve fronds for garnish)
1/8 tsp. crumbled saffron
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup dry white or rosé wine (David used rosé;  any dry white or pink wine will work)
1 medium onion
1 tbsp. fennel seeds, crushed
3/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small cans sardines in olive oil, drained and rinsed
1 pound fresh pasta or good-quality dried fettuccine

Combine the currants, wine and saffron in a small bowl.  Let sit for half an hour before starting the sauce.

Roughly chop the onion and fennel, then combine.  Warm a large saute pan on low heat and add all the olive oil.  When the oil is warm, add the onion, fennel and fennel seeds and saute until golden, stirring occasionally and keeping the heat low.  The low heat means the sauce will take longer to cook (about 30-45 minutes), but will deepen the flavors. 

While the sauce is cooking, start a six- to eight-quart pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.  When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente--cooking time will obviously depend on whether you are using fresh or dried pasta. 

After you put the pasta in, add the currant mixture and the sardines to the sauce.  Stir to combine, and break up the sardines into small chunks with a wooden spoon.

Drain the pasta, and immediately toss with the sauce.  Makes four main-course servings, and would comfortably serve six as a pasta course primo piatto.

Wine Pairing:  We had an aged sparkling wine from California, but the perfect pairing would be a bone-dry Spanish or Italian rosé or a full-bodied Italian white such as Arneis.

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