Sarde a beccafico – Sicilian stuffed sardines

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Sicilian sardines are prized across Italy, and this sarde a beccafico recipe sees the fish stuffed with raisins, pine nuts and breadcrumbs before being baked until golden and crisp.

First published in 2018

Sarde a beccafico are butterflied sardines stuffed with a mix of breadcrumbs, pine nuts, raisins and herbs, then rolled up and baked in between fresh bay leaves. Is there anything more heavenly-sounding than that?

The dish is named after a peculiar and prized species of bird, the beccafico. It feeds on wild figs and used to be hunted and consumed by the Sicilian aristocracy. The beccafico was replaced in this dish by sardines, the tails of which resemble that of the bird.

As with many regional Italian dishes, there are as many recipes for sarde a beccafico as there are Sicilian households. Indeed every major Sicilian town has a slightly different way of preparing them, either in the combination of ingredients or in the way the fish is stuffed and layered.

The version below is typical of Palermo, and showcases a sweet and savoury mix of ingredients that is much loved in the region.




  • 800g of whole sardines, cleaned, scaled, butterflied, head and spine bone removed
  • 50g of fine breadcrumbs
  • extra virgin olive oil, as needed
  • 25g of raisins, soaked in warm water
  • 25g of pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp of caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp of parsley, finely chopped
  • 60ml of orange juice, freshly squeezed
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • bay leaves, (fresh) for layering


Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Grease a baking dish with olive oil and set aside
Rinse the sardines under cold running water then pat dry
In a medium skillet set over a low heat, toast the breadcrumbs until golden and crisp, stirring often to avoid burning. Transfer to a bowl and wet with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Stir to dress evenly
Drain the raisins, squeeze dry, then roughly chop them. Add to the breadcrumbs together with the pine nuts, sugar, parsley and orange juice. Season with a generous dash of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder. Mix all the ingredients together to form a stuffing
Place a small amount of stuffing over each sardine fillet. Roll up the fillets, starting from the head and moving towards the tail. Arrange the rolled-up sardines, tail-side up, on the greased baking dish, and tuck fresh bay leaves between them. Sprinkle any remaining stuffing over them, then drizzle with olive oil and season with a pinch of salt
Bake the sardines for 20–25 minutes. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving

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