An Unstoppable Sicilian Classic

Eric Guido's magical marriage of sardines & saffron


Pasta con le Sarde relies on a mix of flavors that you wouldn’t expect to work together, yet manage to balance each other out into a heart-warming, thoroughly enjoyable plate of pasta.  I’ve even witnessed admitted sardine haters reluctantly tasting this dish and finding themselves with their plates clean by the end of the meal.

The onions and fennel add a sweetness to counteract the slight saltiness of the fish, while still allowing the flavor of the sardines to remain center stage.  The currants reset the palate each time you happen upon one: A burst of briary, sweet fruit intermingles with the rich toasted pine nuts and almonds.

But for me, it’s the toasted breadcrumbs that really make this special, as each bite of breadcrumb-coated pasta is fortified with flavors of toasted, buttery goodness.

Meet Chef Eric Guido

After working in the New York City restaurant scene, Eric Guido branched out, organizing private dining and tasting events centered around Italian cuisine and wine. Here he began to incorporate food photography and recipe development.  His continuing work can be seen at Eric’s passion for food and wine is fueled by the togetherness and satisfaction found at the table.

Falling in love with a Sicilian classic

Queens, New York: Picture a summer day with a group of kids playing in the backyard, feet hopping around the scolding asphalt as a sprinkler whirls and cools them off.  Imagine the smells of summer; of the neighbor’s grill and the sound of an ice cream truck, the music never changing, around the corner.  The Sicilian family next door comes out into the yard. Their Nonna (Grandmother), who has always worn plain black dresses out of respect for her lost husband, carries a bowl in her hands and sets it down on the table.  The kids run to the table and begin to fill their plates.  One sits there looking at his plate, at pasta that he’s never seen before, with an aroma that is alien to him. He takes a bite and finds something new, exciting and utterly captivating.  It leaves an imprint on him that will forever remind him of childhood, summer days and, above all else … happiness.

I was that boy, and the pasta was this Sicilian classic.

Verdicchio makes the match

When it came time to select wines to go with this preparation, I immediately looked for a white from Sicily and ended up with the 2008 Hauner Bianco, Salina; a blend of Catarratto and Inzolia.  However, I also wanted to pair a favorite of mine that I was sure would pair well: Verdicchio. The Santa Barbara Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Le Vaglia 2007 stole the show.  A luminescent white gold in the glass with a bouquet of citrus fruit, lemon curd, orange blossom and an earthiness that was sometimes fresh cut grass and other times green olive. This Verdicchio showed crisp acidity with a mid-weight feel in the mouth as flavors of peach and lime danced across the tongue with a semi sweet mid palate performance and an herbal quality to the finish. A great wine for a wide range of food but absolutely wonderful with the Pasta con le Sarde as it’s tongue curling acidity cut through the intense flavor of sardine and added wonderful complexities to each bite with it’s herbal fresh finish.

The Hauner Bianco (Catarratto/Inzolia) Salina IGT 2008 showed a golden color in the glass with a floral nose of white flowers, lemon grass and honeysuckle.  This wine was semi-sweet and rich on the palate, but with wonderful finesse showing grapefruit, figs and earth with a nice fresh finish.  A good compliment to the Pasta con le Sarde, but pale in comparison against the Verdicchio.  I’d recommend this wine as more of a summer sipper and would keep it away from dishes of intense flavor, as its gorgeous subtleties are lost against the complexities of such dishes.

In the end, each taster had nothing but praise for the pasta, and one showed total amazement at how much they enjoyed a dish centered around sardines.  It’s simple, really: a complete flavor combination from a dish that has been perfected over the centuries, paired against a wine that complements it just as much as it contrasts it.

The full recipe for Pasta con le Sarde, after the jump.

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Mentioned in this article


  • My father's family is Sicilan, but I neer had this dish...until I went to Sicily about 18 months ago. Had lunch in a little outdoor cafe in Taormina, just off the main street. $5 and fantastic

    Apr 02, 2010 at 4:35 PM

  • This is awesome, Eric! Thank you for this amazing recipe. Enjoyed reading your article as always.

    Apr 02, 2010 at 5:25 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
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    Great recipe, Eric. Hope you can recollect more from your past like this...

    Apr 02, 2010 at 6:03 PM

  • Snooth User: bropaul
    268864 117

    Unbelievable! We were just talking about this recipe in the office this week. Thanks for the wine pairings.

    Apr 02, 2010 at 6:13 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    bropaul - It's the time of year! Lots of Italians eating fish which also makes it a little easier to find the Sardines.

    dmcker - A lot of my inspiration comes from childhood. You have to taste my Marinara sauce, bolognese, meatballs or eggplant parm. Not stuff I'd write about here but enjoyed often by my family and all taught to me by my grandmother.

    Apr 02, 2010 at 6:43 PM

  • I often spend summer holidays in Sicily and the first thing I eat is ... Pasta con le Sarde !
    The recipe featured here has an interesting twist:
    it uses currants instead of raisins, traditionally used by Sicilians. It is a must try as it sounds wonderful.
    When eating this dish in Sicily I love to sip a few glasses of Regaleali Binco, a masterpiece of Tasca d'Almerita - a blend of local grapes Inzolia, Cataratto and Grecanico.
    Thank for this nice recipe !

    Apr 03, 2010 at 2:03 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    Thanks for the pairing tip Cristian, I'll see if i can find some Tasca d'Almerita to try with this.

    Apr 03, 2010 at 7:56 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
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    Eric, spaghetti and meatballs as well as bolognese, enchiladas and tamales, cabbage rolls and stuffed peppers, a whole range of roasts and casseroles and breads and fruit pies from the same source for me. Her background was more Great Britain, but there was just a waft of Italian there, so maybe that made a difference. Growing up in Arizona while it was still a territory and her mom taught on an Indian reservation also helped the mix, I'm sure. Had to go elsewhere to learn about seafood, savory pies and many other cuisines, but was very happy to start where I did. Her husband taught chemistry at university, but I was more interested in the practical chemistry she was whipping up in her kitchen, in amongst her own teaching duties.

    Was wondering what wines you'd try with your dish besides the Italians you suggest. While reading the recipe I was struck by a hankering for a muscadet, first, and a picpoul de pinet, second...

    Apr 03, 2010 at 8:37 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
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    Neither she nor my mother would've ever used sardines, and all I ever encountered growing up was cans of 'em on hunting or camping trips. Was hungry enough to get past the uggh factor.

    Traveling to Japan then southern Italy brought epiphanies, though. I still have the occasional dream about fresh anchovies when I'm away from them for too long, but then I once had a dream about diving into a swimming pool of guacamole after I hadn't had an avocado for five years due to travels through Asia. ;-)

    Fresh, whether in cooked Italian dishes or raw in sushi, sardines can be absolutely delicious, far beyond their pricepoint in the marketplace (assuming you can even find them there). Pretty good grilled whole, or fileted and sauteed with a dusting of flour and even curry powder in a pinch (thinking some beach camping here). I've caught them several times, usually for use as bait for larger fish, and they are quite fragile. Slap the water around them too hard, not even making direct contact, and they can die from shock. But fresh, they taste lovely....

    Apr 03, 2010 at 8:49 PM

  • Snooth User: settembre
    367732 1

    problem is the fennel.. you wont never find wild fennel in any other region except than in sicily, and even there they dont sell it, you have to find by yourself. with regular fennel is not gonna be the same.
    an italian abroad..

    Apr 03, 2010 at 9:07 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    settembre- When I was doing the recipe testing, I recall there being a moment that I asked myself, "why is the fennel in the original recipe?" But then I realized that it was the fennel that was keeping the balance in this dish. It was adding a sweetness, to counteract the saltiness of the fish while it's own flavor was more subdued.

    I totally understand what you're saying and I would love to try this with the fennel you speak of in Sicily but I would never imagine removing the fennel from this plate, even if it's just domestic.

    dmcker - I can't even imagine how great it must be to experience so many varied cuisines in their native countries. Your grandmother must have had some very original culinary creations from what you describe.

    I could see a muscadet going well with this but not one that is bone dry like some I've tried. I feel you need a little body (not residual sugar but a slight perception of sweetness). I was really tempted to keep throwing wines at this dish but the Verdicchio really hit he nail on the head. I'd like to try a Vermentino and a Dry Riesling next. Nothing too fruity though, more like olives, sea air, minerals and funk to pair with this dish.

    Apr 04, 2010 at 12:38 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    PS: I've never had a picpoul de pinet, I'll have to add that to the list.


    Apr 04, 2010 at 12:39 AM

  • Happy Easter everybody !

    the wild fennel does not grow exclusively in Sicily, it grows all around the Mediterranean.
    Last summer I spent 2 weeks in Tuscany, in the countryside, not far from San Gimignano and there was plenty of wild fennel growing around.
    Probably the aroma and taste of the Sicilian one are more intense (sea & sun unique to Sicily) but you can use the wild fennel growing elsewhere.
    Yet in the Pasta con le Sarde there is a wonderful harmony and balance of flavors and textures as a result of all ingredients.

    did you use black or red currants ? (in the photo they seem to be black)


    PS: sorry for the missing "a" in "bianco", in my previous post :)

    Apr 04, 2010 at 5:30 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    They are indeed black currants.

    I haven't seen red currants, looks like yet another thing I need to find and try.

    Apr 04, 2010 at 8:48 AM

  • Eric,

    yes, there are red currants and even white currants, which are, actually, pink the White Zinfandel :)
    I grow all 3 of them in my backyard. The red ones are used for nice sweet & sour sauces served with game.

    Perhaps you can find them in German delicacies stores, the German name is "Schwarze Johannibeeren" - for the black ones "Rote Johannisbeeren - for the reds and "Weisse ..." for the white ones

    see the links below:

    Just read your article on risotto, I do not know how it is in the USA but in Europe it is Ramsons time (bear's garlic) which is absolutely beautiful for a fresh, fragrant, springtime risotto. I can send you the recipe if you like to give it a try .

    Excuse the long speech... :)
    Best regards

    Apr 07, 2010 at 2:57 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    Cristian Boerean - thanks for the extremely informative post. I do have a number of German specialty stores near me and I'll look for these.

    Also, if it's no trouble, I'd love to see the risotto recipe you're referring to. Thanks

    Apr 07, 2010 at 6:41 AM

  • Eric,
    this is recipe, thank you for letting me send it to you

    Risotto with Ramsons

    I made this recipe based on an Italian classic of the Veronese: "Risotto con gli s'ciopet"
    (The Latin name of s'ciopet is Silene inflata, English = sculpit or bladder champion)
    It was the best risotto I ever had.
    The rice I use is always Vialone nano - it is the typical rice used in the Veronese area.

    The stock is homemade - risotto is to me something personal, fabulous and an industrial stock would be an offence :)
    2 celery stems, of 10 cm each, and a few leaves too
    1/8 celery bulb
    1 onion
    1/4 bunch of fresh parsley
    10 peppercorns
    1 carrot coarsely copped
    2 quarters of German turnips (Kohlrabi) - it adds a nice touch of sweetness
    2 tablespoons of extravergine
    4-5 leaves of ramsons - they give the soup a nice, greenish hue - just add them after 20 minutes.
    fresh spring water (Acqua Panna is excellent) - 1,5 L
    coarse sea salt to taste

    Heat the extravergine in a pan and cook the vegetables for 2-3 minutes before adding the water. Add the peppercorns, bring to a boil, cover and then simmer for at least 30 minutes to bring the best out of the vegetables.

    For the rice:
    3 cups of Vialone nano
    1 onion
    a handful of ramsons
    100 ml Soave DOC
    2 handfuls of Grana Padano/Parmigiano Reggiano (or half/half with Pecorino Romano for an intenser flavor)
    a knob of well chilled butter for the mantecatura
    a drizzle of extravergine and freshly ground black pepper
    sea salt

    Chop the onion and cook in 2 tablespoons of extravergine (or butter), add a little salt and when it turns glassy add the rice ... you know this too well and when the rice is translucent add the wine....
    Use for this recipe a Soave DOC, 100 ml.
    The rest is simple... and classic
    Just before turning off the heat, add the finely chopped ramsons leaves, stir well, and wait for one minute and turn off the heat.
    Add the Grana Padano/Parmigiano and the butter and carry out the mantecatura.
    Let the risotto rest for one minute.
    Decorate the plate with 2-3 ransoms leaves, drizzle with extravergine add some chips of Grana/Parmigiano.
    Grind some pepper and ...enjoy.
    To this dish I dare to suggest a Soave Classico DOC.

    PS: if you can find matured Monte Veronese cheese, use it instead the Grana Padano / Parmigiano - it is beautiful. Monte Veronese and Soave - a match made in heaven.

    You can see the photo here:


    Apr 07, 2010 at 12:52 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
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    Thank you for the recipe. This sounds great. I'll try it out in the next few weeks. Thanks for sharing.

    Apr 08, 2010 at 8:49 PM

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