JollyPostie The Saturday Paper The food: Sarde a beccafico, padrón peppers with tomato bread, upside-down peach cake, nougat parfait with praline

Text-Only Mode Of The Email The food: Sarde a beccafico, padrón peppers with tomato bread, upside-down peach cake, nougat parfait with praline

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The food, Feb 15.

Andrew McConnell

The food is a weekly email newsletter from

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Happy cooking.

Skewered slices of orange, bay leaves and sardine fillets with pine nuts and soaked currants scattered on the board.


Earl Carter

This recipe is from Sicily. Like a lot of old recipes, it has a great story behind it. It is named after a small bird, similar to a finch, that feeds on wild figs. Beccaficos were considered a delicacy by Palermo’s nobility and were stuffed with their own entrails, and often bread and other aromats, and then roasted.

The recipe was then adapted by everyday people to use whatever was abundant, which in Sicily’s case was sardines. Throughout Sicily there are regional variations of this recipe that range from the addition of cheese to almonds replacing the currants and pine nuts – or this element being left out altogether. One version takes two butterflied sardines, with stuffing between them, that are then breaded and fried. It’s also delicious.

I like this version for the tribute it pays to the beccafico: the sardine can be rolled so the tail pokes out, resembling the beak of a bird. I also like the fact that, like a lot of food in Sicily, it has its own unique flavouring, which is different from the mainland or northern Italy. In Sicily, fruits and nuts are often paired in savoury dishes, which speaks to the influence of Arab cuisine. And sarde a beccafico is still sold on the streets of Sicily.

This is more than a snack or antipasti. It can be served as an entree or as a lovely plate at lunch, and is a dish best eaten at room temperature on a summer day. The combination of the gentle orange flavour, the pine nuts and the currants is about as exotic as a sardine can get – at least in my experience.

Sardine fillets are now easy to find at fish markets and shops, and that makes the idea of approaching this dish a lot more reasonable and attractive. If you have desire to fillet your own sardines, go for it. I won’t be joining you.

These sardines can be stuffed and rolled the day before, ready to cook as guests arrive. You can be generous with the olive oil and salt and seasoning: the fish can take it. There’s a desire in all of us to tweak recipes like this, but please don’t. The dried currants are something I would be tempted to take out. You mustn’t. They are key to this recipe, its history and why it works so well.

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Sarde a beccafico

Issue: Feb 11 - 17, 2023

(No. 436)


: 50 minutes preparation + cooking


: 4

y: Andrew McConnell

A kitchen knife and several sliced sardine fillets

Skewered slices of orange, bay leaves and sardine fillets with pine nuts and soaked currants scattered on the board.


2 tbsp pine nuts

¼ loaf day-old white sourdough bread

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to cook and serve

1 tbsp dried currants, soaked in hot water for half an hour

1 tbsp chopped parsley

½ orange, juiced

1 lemon, juiced

salt and pepper

12 filleted, butterflied sardines

12 fresh bay leaves

12 slices of orange


Preheat your oven to 180ºC.

First, place the pine nuts on a tray and bake until golden.

To make the breadcrumbs, take the sourdough, remove the crust and grate the loaf on the coarse edge of a box grater. Warm the olive oil in a frypan, add the breadcrumbs and gently sauté, tossing all the while until the crumbs are golden. (Alternatively, the breadcrumbs could be baked in the oven until golden.) Tip the crumbs into a mixing bowl. Add the toasted pine nuts, currants, chopped parsley, orange juice and half the lemon juice. Season with a pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper. Taste the stuffing for seasoning, add more salt if you think it needs it.

Lay the butterflied sardine fillets skin-side down on a board, take a small handful of the stuffing and squeeze it tightly into a walnut-sized piece. Place the stuffing on the sardine fillet and roll the fillet until it encases the filling. Place the stuffed sardine in an oiled small shallow baking tray large enough to snugly fit the sardines. Continue to roll the remaining sardines and place in a line on the tray. Place a bay leaf and a slice of orange between each rolled sardine and skewer to hold the sardines in place. Transfer the sardines to the fridge until you are ready to cook.

To cook, brush the sardines with a little olive oil and season with a good pinch of sea salt. Cook for 15-20 minutes. When ready, remove the tray from the oven and drizzle the skewers with a little extra virgin olive oil, then squeeze the remaining lemon juice over the top. I prefer to eat this dish once it has cooled to room temperature.

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