… you’ve simply got to post it on your blog!
Are you ready?
Here it is: my conchiglie pasta with a mackerel and fennel saffron sauce!
This is a very special pasta dish. Not only is it ridiculously delicious, but it is also ridiculously easy and quick to make. Seriously, if you don’t try it, you are absolutely bonkers!
This dish was inspired by my passion for Sicilian food and its intriguing blend of Italian and North African flavours. One of Sicily’s national dishes is pasta con le sarde; a wonderful sweet and salty spaghetti with fresh sardines, wild fennel, raisins, pine nuts and saffron. The combination of sweet and savoury is typical of Sicilian food and one of the main reasons why I love it so much.
As you may guess, I’m not one to copy a recipe straight from the book and like to put my own twist to things. I decided to stick to the fennel and saffron, but I opted for a funkier type of pasta shape (funky me!) and used fresh mackerel fillets instead of sardines. (In my humble but honest opinion I truly believe that mackerel is the most beautiful looking and tasting fish in the entire world!)
And this is where it gets weird: The traditional dish requires a dry white wine for the sauce, but I didn’t feel like opening up an entire bottle of wine just so I could use a splash of it in my sauce, so I ended up pouring a good glug of Martini Bianco in my pan.
Martini Bianco. You know what our good ol’ friend George Clooney used to say: No martini, No party!
I know you think that a food purist would consider this sacrilege, but I swear on my mother’s incredibly advanced flavour palate that the sweetness of the martini is a wonderful accompaniment to the aniseedy fennel and aromatic saffron!
And this is where it gets really bonkers: the traditional pasta con le sarde is presented with toasted breadcrumbs on top, but I really couldn’t be bothered to make some croutons from scratch and was about to skip this part of the recipe when I got a twisted idea …While I was frying the mackerel fillets skin-side down in a pan, I got overly excited about the crispiness of the skin and decided to turn the skin into a mackerel skin crumble topping. I removed the skin from the soft and succulent flesh of the fish and chopped it op as finely as possible and sprinkled it on top of the pasta when it was finished! Eureka!
So imagine me and my mom sitting at the kitchen table. The pasta dish was made in no less than 15 minutes so we weren’t really expecting to be hit with the most incredible flavour bomb in the history of flavour bombs. And then it happened: we took a bite… looked at each other in utter surprise… and sighed out of pure contentment. “This is by far the best pasta dish I’ve ever tasted”, my mom said after a couple of minutes. (the disbelief clearly audible in her voice 😉 )
And you know what they say:” mums know best”, so this has got to be the truth!
Ingredients (serves 2):
• 225gr of conchiglie pasta
• 1 fennel bulb
• Handful of cherry tomatoes
• Generous pinch of saffron
• Juice of half an orange
• A good splash of martini bianco
• 3 fresh mackerel fillets
• Pinch of chili flakes
• Handful of toasted pine nuts
1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
2. Finely slice the fennel in thin stripes and half the cherry tomatoes.
3. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the mackerel skin-side down until the skin gets really crispy. (Cook the mackerel entirely on the skin side, this will keep the flesh extra moist)
4. Remove the skin from the fish. Keep aside and flake the flesh of the fish and put it in a bowl.
5. Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the same pan you used to cook your fish and now add the fennel, tomatoes , chili flakes and salt. Sautee for a couple of minutes.
6. Pour an generous splash of martini over the top, together with the saffron and let it simmer until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated.
7. Add the juice of half an orange and season with some extra salt and pepper.
8. Add your cooked pasta, an extra tablespoon of olive oil and stir through the flaked mackerel fillets.
9. Toss through some toasted pine nuts and at the very last minute chop your crunchy fish skin and scatter all over the pasta.