During the blistering summer of 2019 I was wandering the back streets of Sicily reading every restaurant menu in search of a classic dish that I was dying to try.
It didn’t matter what meal it was – breakfast, lunch or dinner – I would always ask the server if they had the dish on the menu. Sadly, the answer was always no signore.
I was crushed. But also impressed. And a little envious. Why? Let me explain.
The reason authentic, classic dishes are, well, authentic and classic is because they’re seasonal. Which is great, because that adds to the freshness, deliciousness and health benefits of the cuisine.
As a tourist, this approach to eating can be extremely frustrating. But as a nutritionist (and healthy foodie) I appreciate it immensely.
In many cultures, including Italian, eating seasonally is a way of life. You won’t see too many Italians eating fresh tomatoes in January, or enjoying fresh ricotta in the summer (more on that here). Instead, diets are rotated and adjusted to what’s available locally.
The dish I wanted to try was called pasta con le sarde, which is a pasta dish with sardines, pine nuts, raisins, saffron, fennel and breadcrumbs. Unfortunately for me, fennel is in season in Sicily the winter, along with other root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Since I was there in the heat of the summer, I had to settle for eggplant caponata, which due to the incredible freshness and flavours of the eggplant, really wasn’t settling at all.
But this summer of 2020 is different. This summer we’re all in our own locales, and I’m enjoying the seasonal produce that I get from my local veggie box subscription. And guess what I pulled out of my box this week? You guessed it – fennel!
So this week, pretty much an exact year later, I’ll attempt to make pasta con le sarde for my wife and I – and I think you should find some local fennel and give it a try as well.
These two recipes caught my eye, pick whatever one appeals to you:
- This recipe here by Serious Eats looks divine. They suggest soaking the raisins and saffron together in warmed wine. The dish utilizes both the fennel bulb and seeds, which I like because it’ll make the dish even more delicious and nutritious.
- This recipe in NYT cookinguses currants instead of raisins, which are actually much higher in anti-oxidants than raisins.
Besides the delicious flavours, you’ll also gain the following nutritional benefits if you use these ingredients and cooking techniques:
- Pasta made from organic durum wheat semolina: Higher in fibre, protein, B vitamins, magnesium and iron than your typical pasta. You can easily find it at Italian specialty stores or in the organic/health food section of your grocery store.
- Slightly undercook your pasta: When pasta is cooked ‘al dente’ it has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked to a softer texture.
- Local, seasonal fennel: An excellent source of Vitamin C, but what differentiates this vegetable from many others is its high ani-oxidant value. You can practically smell its benefits. The antioxidants & plant chemicals of fennel give it that intense liquorice and anise aroma.
- Fennel seeds: Anti-bacterial and helps with digestion.
- Sardines & Anchovies: Two of the highest sources of omega 3 fats, which are involved in brain, skin, hormone and heart health.
- Pine nuts: Like many other nuts and seeds, pine nuts are a source of healthy fats and have many nutrients like vitamin E, vitamin K, zinc and magnesium, to name a few.
- Saffron: Despite the fact that very little is used,saffron’s vibrant red pigment and distinct scent makes is really high in antioxidants that reduce inflammation.
- Raisins or currants: A great source of fibre and antioxidants.
So let’s give it a whirl. Grab your fennel, pick your recipe, and enjoy! Be sure to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me how it went.
P.S. For more healthy foodie recipes, check out my archive by clicking here.