SARDE E BECCAFICO
Preparation & Cooking Time, 40 min. + 20 min.
Ingredients, Serves 8
1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup of white wine vinegar
juice and zest of one lemon, juice of 4 oranges (or 2 cups of orange juice)
2 cups (200gr) breadcrumbs
5 tbsp (75gr) sugar, 18 bay leaves
1 tbsp (15gr) fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp (30gr) raisins, 2 tbsp (30gr) pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
Utensils, mixing bowl, plate, baking dish
Wine Pairings: Still White Wine, Medium-Bodied, Soft and Fragrant - Grape "Grillo"
Stuffed sardines, sarde a beccafico in Sicilian dialect, is one of the most traditional and well-loved dishes in Sicily. Sardines are small, inexpensive and are commonly found off the coast of Sicily. For a long time, sardines were one of the main ingredients in the diet of the lower class, especially fishermen, who ate them quite often.
It should come as no surprise that many Sicilian recipes are based on sardines. In many cases, sardines were used as a substitute for more expensive fish, allowing the poor to recreate the dishes the noblemen were accustomed to eating. This recipe for stuffed sardines is actual the poor man's version of a much more noble meat dish.
Beccafico is the name of a small bird with very flavorful meat that consumes figs during the summertime, becoming quite plump. Noble Sicilians would catch and eat these birds, stuffed with their innards. They said that their meat was nice and tender so they were eating them with all the guts.
This dish was obviously out of range of the poorer population who tried to recreate the dish with other ingredients. The small birds were substituted with less-expensive sardines and were stuffed with breadcrumbs rather than innards. During assembly, the tail of the fish is twisted upward in imitation of the bird's tail. The Sicilian name of the plate recall the bird: sarde a beccafico (beccafico literally means beak figs) Sicilian stuffed sardines became very popular in Sicily and are now considered an important part of the island's cuisine.
As always, there are a number of variations on this dish. Some cooks add diced caciocavallo cheese to the stuffing and the stuffed sardines are dipped in flour and fried instead of baked. Others soak the currants or raisins in Marsala wine or add saffron to the filling.
Clean the sardines and remove the backbone.
In a bowl combine breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, the juice of 2 oranges (or a cup of orange juice), grated orange zest, grated lemon zest, the juice of 1 lemon, chopped parsley, 1/2 olive oil, vinegar. Add sugar, raisins, pine nuts. Mix well and season to taste. The dough should be reasonably dense, firm and sticky enough to make balls for the filling - a bit like modeling clay. Add olive oil if necessary.
To assemble the sardines and stuffing
Select a baking dish large enough to fit all the sardines once they are rolled. Lightly oil the baking dish. In a big plate have all 18 sardines opened and ready to be filled. Place a tablespoon of filling near the wide end of each fish.
Roll the fish around the stuffing toward the tail very carefully as they are extremely delicate and easy to break.
Place the rolled fish, tail up, in the prepared baking dish. Pack them tightly in the baking dish so that they don't unroll.
Insert bay leaves between the fish rolls. Add some drops of oil and sprinkle the sugar on the fishes. Now bake in a preheated oven (350°F - 180°C) for about 20 minutes. Before serving it, sprinkle with orange juice to moisten the fish. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. It is a perfect starter or a great side-dish, hot or cold it doesn't matter, you are going to love and enjoy it!!!!
Use the remaining filling to stuff fried slices of eggplant. Sprinkle with grated cheese and olive oil and bake it for 5 minutes in a preheated oven (350°F - 180°C).
If you are using frozen sardines, do not roll them (they cannot be easily sealed anymore) but make them "baciate (kissed)" - see pictures