My grandfather would go crazy over this spaghetti. He would enjoy it so much I remember seeing him eating it with the end of the table-cloth tucked into the collar of his shirt so he would not get any oil or sauce on him from slurping up this wonderful dish. My grandmother would make this when she couldn’t get fresh sardines for Pasta Con Sarde. Or didn’t have any sardines and used the canned tuna she had in her pantry. Both dishes are similar. With pasta con sarde she added pine nuts and currants and used the fleshy part of the fennel along with the leaves.
This is as true a Sicilian dish as you can make. The only place I ever saw make this (other than my grandmother) was a little deli in Hackensack, New Jersey called Martino’s Grocery. Martino’s is at 107 Lodi Street, and is the best kept secret in New Jersey. From the outside it looks like any other Italian Specialty grocery store. And when you walk in you don’t notice anything exceptional. Until you venture to the back of the store which opens up and looks like you are stepping into grandma’s dining room. Except instead of one long table there are two. With chairs situated all around the table. For $10 (have not been there in a while so I’m not sure if it has gone up) you will dine on some of the best Sicilian home cooking you have ever had. It’s all buffet style. Vincenzo Martino makes sure everyone is seated properly while his wife is constantly refilling the chafing dishes with more fresh cooked food. On any day you can have three types of pasta, including Pasta con Sarde which they make on Wednesdays, two or three types of chicken dishes, sausages, meatballs, eggplant made two different ways, veal dishes, salads, foccachia the list goes on and on, whatever Grandma Martino feels like cooking that day. And every day it’s something different. When I worked in Hackensack I used to go there for lunch and when I got back to the office all I wanted to do was put my head down and take an hour’s nap. Who could work after a feast like that?? And if the food wasn’t reason enough to go there, I would sit and eat and would get coached to get more food, just like my grandparents used to do.
Spaghetti with Tuna and Fennel is a simple dish with simple ingredients that work very well together. I hope you enjoy it.
Spaghetti with Tuna and Fennel
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 2 – 5 ounce cans of tuna in olive oil, drained and flaked
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 4 anchovy filets
- 4-5 canned plumb tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
- 1 pinch saffron
- 1/4 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup fennel leaves, chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup toasted plain breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
To toast the breadcrumbs, place in a small frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Toast over medium heat until the breadcrumbs turn golden. Remove from heat and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook till al dente.
In the meantime, in a large saute pan, add the olive oil, chopped onions and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes over medium heat until the onions are soft. Add the anchovy filets and cook, chopping up, till they dissolve. Add the chopped tomatoes, capers, parsley, fennel and saffron and cook for several minutes. Add the tuna to the sauce and cook gently for 1 minuet. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
When the spaghetti is cooked, drain it well and reserve a cup of the pasta water. Add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss well. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the pasta and toss. If you find the spaghetti too dry you can add some pasta water. This is not a dripping wet sauce but a puree of all the flavors of the ingredients . Taste again for salt.
Serve the spaghetti with a sprinkle of the toasted breadcrumbs on top and some grated cheese.