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With fresh sardines and wild fennel, this bucatini recipe has a few less common ingredients (outside of Italy, at least), though the extra search is worth it. Specialty Italian stores may have what you are looking for, or in a pinch, you can make a few substitutions. If you can’t find fresh sardines, high quality canned sardines may be used. Simply drain two or three four-ounce cans and fillet the sardines.
In addition, dill is an acceptable substitute for wild fennel, or finocchio selvatico. Bucatini, the pasta typically used in this recipe, is a thick, hollow spaghetti that pairs well with the texture of the sauce. Bucatini pasta is used for other famous bucatini recipes: bucatini all’Amatriciana, bucatini cacio e pepe, bucatini alla gricia and bucatini alla carbonara.
Bucatini Recipe with Sardines and Wild Fennel
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the chopped fennel and boil for 20 minutes.
- Remove the fennel and reserve the cooking water.
- Chop the fennel into 1-inch pieces and set aside.
- Pour the olive oil into a large sauté pan over a medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes or until translucent. Stir in the anchovy fillets and let them dissolve for about 1 minute.
- Add the sardines and 2 ladles of the reserved fennel water. Stir for a few minutes, then add the toasted pine nuts, saffron, salt, and pepper. Cook gently for 5 minutes.
- Add the fennel to the sardine mixture and 2 more ladles of fennel water to form a medium-thick sauce.
- Bring the reserved fennel water back to a boil. Add plenty of salt and more water if necessary, then add the bucatini and cook until al dente, about 8 to 9 minutes.
- Drain the bucatini and mix with the sardine sauce. Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.