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Catanian Stuffed Sardines -- Sarde a Beccafico Catanesi

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Filetted Sardines

Filetted Sardines

Kyle Phillips © 2006 Licensed to About.Com
Catanian Stuffed Sardines, or Sarde a Beccafico Catanesi: Lenore writes, "Have a question: Have you ever heard of Sarde a beccafico (Stuffed sardines). This is very traditional Sicilian dish, where the cleaned sardines are served "open-face" filled with breadcrumbs, pinoli (pine nuts), passolina, sugar, and lemon juice. Many people add egg to the other ingredients to hold the filling together. The characteristic sour-sweet taste comes marinating the fish in lemon juice."

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes


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"What I don't understand is how they can get all this in/on a little sardine? It's served open-faced. Okay, do you mix them all together like a paste? Or do you dribble it on individually? I don't know--sounded interesting though. Do I dare?"

Of course you do. I haven't actually had them in a long time, but they are one of Sicily's signature dishes. According to Pino Correnti, they're now commonly served as antipasti, though he thinks they do better as a main course; he also notes that, like everything else in Sicily (and Italy, for that matter), they're quite regional. For example, the pinolo, raisin, sugar and lemon combination in the filling is more typical of Palermo. In Catania, on the other hand, they omit these, and also change the nature of the dish by sandwiching the filling between paired sardines, rather than folding up individual split sardines around ribbons of filling. They also fry, rather than bake their sarde. We'll follow Mr. Correnti's lead and begin with Catania:

Sardi a Beccaficu Catanisi
  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 kilo) fresh sardines that are not too small
  • 4 ounces (about a cup, or 100 g) bread crumbs
  • 4 ounces pecorino pepato (Sicilian pecorino with whole peppercorns; use moderately sharp romano if need be), grated
  • A minced mixture of garlic and parsley, proportions to taste
  • 3 eggs beaten, and two more, also beaten, for dredging the sardines
  • 1 cup (100 g) flour
  • A bowl of strong vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
"Why are these sardines called beccafico?" asks Mr. Correnti, in Il Grande Libro D'Oro della Cucina e dei Vini della Sicilia, and goes on to note that Salvatore lo Presti, the renowned Catanian folklorist, says, in Lo Stivale allo Spiedo (The Spitted Boot, Rome, Casini, ed.) that the beccafico is a gluttonous bird that loves figs, and therefore calling the dish sarda a beccafico is paying homage to the bird with good taste.

While the fish are marinating in the vinegar, prepare a mixture of bread crumbs, grated pecorino cheese, minced garlic and parsley, and beaten eggs. Season all with salt and pepper and form little bits of the mixture into oblong balls which you will want to press between pairs of open sardines. Indeed, to the contrary of the custom followed in Palermo, in eastern Sicily Sarde a beccafico must always consist of two sardines, which become, as it were, lids for each other, with filling in the middle. In any case, once you prepared the sardines and their filling, dip them first in egg and then dredge them in flour, and fry them in hot oil until golden.

Superlative hot or cold.

A Variation:

The above are good, but they're not all. Around Messina and along the Ionian coast they make Sardi a Beccaficu O Sucu, Sardi a Beccafico with sauce, as follows:

Once you have made this sardines per the instructions above, slice an onion with a little garlic and parsley, and sauté the mixture in a little oil. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, add the sardines, and chopped tomatoes to cover. Sauté the sardines, covered, and when the sauce thickens, remove them. To sardines will be a tasty second course, while the sauce will be perfect over spaghetti.

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