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Palermo's Sarde a Beccafico -- Sarde a Beccafico Palermitani

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Filetted Sardines

Filetted Sardines

Kyle Phillips © 2006 Licensed to About.Com
Palermo's Sarde a Beccafico, or Sarde a Beccafico Palermitani: 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: 24 hours

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 24 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. After what's done in Catania we come to Palermo, where they're richer and sweeter:

Sardi a Beccaficu Palermitani
  • 2 3/4 pounds (1.2 k) very fresh, not too big sardines
  • 6 ounces (150 g) bread crumbs
  • 8 salted anchovies
  • 2 ounces (50 g) raisins
  • 2 ounces (60 g) pine nuts
  • A bunch of parsley, minced
  • Bay leaf
  • The juice of a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Scale the sardines, remove their heads, bone them, and split them, leaving the two sides connected by a thin strip of flesh along the back. Wash them well and set them to drain. Sauté all but a little of the breadcrumbs in a skillet with the oil. When the breadcrumbs are well browned, transfer them to bowl and combine them with the raisins, pine nuts, anchovy fillets, and minced parsley. Check seasoning. Use the mixture to fill the open anchovies, folding the two halves together once you have filled them. Put the filled anchovies in a well-oiled pan, with their backs down, separating them with bay leaves. Dust them with the remaining breadcrumbs and sprinkle them with a little oil. Combine the juice of the lemon and the sugar, and sprinkle the mixture over the sardines.

Cook them in a preheated 360 degree F (180 C) oven for about 10 minutes, or until done.

My Response to Stevesottl:
Thanks so much for the variation, though I would hesitate to say it is universal in Palermo, if for no other reason, because saffron, which is a nice touch, would have been too expensive for some people's pockets.

When making signature dishes of this kind cooks often add distinctive touches to distinguish themselves from their neighbors. More variety, and variety is a good thing.
Kyle Phillips, Your Guide to Italian Cooking

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