Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sicilian-Style Pasta with Sardines (Page 216)

  • Date: Sunday, April 13, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: D

I bought all the ingredients for this quick and easy pasta dish weeks ago. But I just couldn't bring myself to make it. So the fennel bulb rotted in the fridge and I decided I would buy new fennel once Matty was here and we could brave this dish together. So that's what I did. The verdict: ick. Ick, ick, ick. It was no shocker that this didn't taste good. Spaghetti topped with a mixture of smushed up canned sardines, raisins, pine nuts, fennel bulb, fennel seed, onion, saffron, wine, and tons and tons of oil just doesn't even sound like it has the possibility to be good. What you get should be titled Oily Pasta with Smushed up Fish Bits, because the only recognizable ingredients in the final dish were the oil, the sardines, the raisins, and the pine nuts (and the pasta of course...). Now, I have nothing against any one of those ingredients (ok, ok, I admit -- canned sardines aren't my fave), but all together atop pasta it was just nasty. The flavors of the yummy ingredients (onion, wine, saffron, pine nuts, etc...) were totally drowned out by the smushed up fish bits. It was foul. Truly foul. Matty tried to stay positive. He offered that it had, "A very special flavor." Well, ok. I'm sure horseshit has a special flavor too but I don't want to eat that either.

Let me just say that I am not arguing that the Sicilians out there who created, and probably enjoy, this dish are insane. I am not claiming that a pasta dish with sardines and fennel couldn't be good. I am only claiming that this rendition is TERRIBLE. Even The Book admits that actually in Sicily they use fresh sardines, not canned, and a type of wild fennel we can't get in the US. So basically, they created and enjoy a dish that is completely different from this one.

I strongly believe that if you are going to bastardize another culture's food, and pass it off as authentic, it should at least taste good. I spent my entire childhood thinking that I hate Mexican food. I grew up in Wisconsin, so a child wiser than myself might have realized that I had never actually eaten Mexican food. But I was naive, and the "Mexican" restaurants we ate at claimed to serve Mexican food. I will never forget the look of shock and horror on Emilee's face when I announced, our freshman year in college, that I didn't like Mexican food. She had spent the last year living in Mexico and found my claim completely incomprehensible. She's a smart woman, so I considered the possibility that I was wrong. I went out to dinner with her -- we ate Northern California Mexican food, which may not be as good as the food in Mexico, but is miles better than the "Mexican" food in Wisconsin. It rapidly became my favorite cuisine.

I learned a lesson from that experience -- do not reject cuisine a based on bad knock-offs. If I ever find myself in Sicily, I will hunt down this dish and try it for real. But I will never, under any circumstances, make this recipe again.

Here is the recipe.


David said...

As avid amateur cook and professional mathematician/physicist i really enjoy your blog. Been following for a while.

For the right version of this sardine recipe please see http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/52e87554-0756-11dd-b41e-0000779fd2ac.html

its great...

Teena said...

Hi David,

I'm glad you are enjoying the blog.

The version of pasta con le sarde that you linked to does sound MUCH better than the version I made. Thanks!