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Sarde a beccafico – Sicilian stuffed sardines

Sarde a beccafico

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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.

Ingredients

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Method

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1
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Grease a baking dish with olive oil and set aside
2
Rinse the sardines under cold running water then pat dry
3
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
4
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
5
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
6
Bake the sardines for 20–25 minutes. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving
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