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Sunday, 2 September 2007

Recipe of the Month : Sarde a beccafico

Every Sicilian dish has its own story to tell.

In an island that has been at the cross-road of so many different cultures these stories become even more fascinating.

This month we will disclose the culinary secrets and a recipe of the delicious "Sarde a Beccafico" (Stuffed sardines).

Maria Carolina, the wife of Ferdinand I and the sister of Marie Antoinette imported French chefs to the royal court in Palermo in 1805. These chefs became known as MonsĂș, a corruption of the word monsieur. Gradually the Sicilians, who had served their apprenticeships under the French cooks, took over the kitchens and continued to bear the prestigious title.

MonsĂș were able to produce magnificent flavours in the kitchen : The quintessential baroque opulence expressing its art in food and in sophisticated presentations.

The Sicilians creatively got rid of the austerity of Norman dishes and filled their specialties with the exoticness of a southern land bathed in sunshine and all the virtues and vices of the east. They used spices, marinated the meats in lemon juice and used breadcrumbs, pinenuts and raisins fillings.

Sarde a Beccafico originally consisted in roasted quail-like small birds, some even believe robins. While the poor people could not afford such an expensive delicacy, their ingenuity made them think of a cheaper alternative using sardines.

The choice of the sardines is not casual, as this fish's tail resembles a bird or even a robin's tail.

Another theory behind the name of this delicacy comes from Salvatore lo Presti, the renowned Catanian folklorist. He writes in Lo Stivale allo Spiedo (The Spitted Boot) that the beccafico is a gluttonous bird that loves ripe figs and is therefore considered a gourmand.

I know you have all been waiting for this...
Here's my grandma's recipe :

ingredients for 6 serves
2 pounds fresh sardines
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup currants, plumped in water
2 tablespoons minced parsley
8 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
6 black olives, pitted and slivered
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon sugar
2 dozen bay leaves

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Scale, gut and clean sardines. Split open to remove backbone, but do not cut in half.
In a heavy skillet, over low flame, brown breadcrumbs in 2 tablespoons oil. When golden, take off heat and stir in pine nuts, currants, parsley, anchovy, olives, orange and lemon zest. Moisten with 1 - 2 tablespoons additional oil if mixture is dry.
Place a spoonful of mixture in the centre of each opened sardine. Do not close sardines. Roll up starting with edge opposite the tail. When rolled, place side by side in baking dish with tail sticking up. Place a bay leaf between each fish.
Mix together, lemon and orange juice.
When ready to bake, sprinkle with sugar and then with the citrus juices.
Bake in preheated 350° F oven for 10 - 15 minutes.
This dish is excellent when served either hot or cold.

1 comment:

  1. My mother is from Palermo and she used to make this dish. Now, I make it on Christmas Eve for my family.

    I had the pleasure of visiting Palermo a few years while I was on a tour of Italy. I fell in love with Sicily and plan to go back as soon as it is possile!