Have I told you already I like Italian food? If I haven’t, punch me. I love Italian food! Whenever I have a proper Italian dish, I can’t help wondering how something fairly simple can taste so wonderful. Not that all Italian dishes are easy to make, but many classics are. And when they’re done well, they make me drool.
From time to time I have a go at making a few of these dishes at home. A recipe that gave me great satisfaction is the ragù bolognese of TV chef Antonio Carluccio. This recipe gives me the feeling I’m eating something authentically Italian. Many people in Belgium chuck in a lot more in the sauce, and I used to do so as well. And that’s ok. Everyone has his or her own way of making spaghetti sauce and many of these versions are also really yummy. But try Carluccio’s recipe for once. It’s pretty good stuff and actually not so difficult to make!
But the ragù bolognese is not the dish I want to talk about in today’s 1+1=3. I want to talk about a Sicilian dish : the pasta con le sarde, or pasta with fresh sardines. In this recipe you combine the fresh sardines with the green tops of fennel, pine nuts, dried raisins, saffran and bread crumbs. How’s that for a combination! Jamie Oliver has a version of this dish, but if you understand Italian there is also a recipe on Giallo Zafferano, which is probably more authentic. Mine wasn’t so authentic… I have never seen the green tops of fennel for sale separately around here. You can buy the bulbs with a bit of green, but I probably would have needed to buy ten or more to have enough green tops. So I resorted to dill. Yes, I know. It’s not the same… And I apologise tenfold to all Sicilians who are now shouting “mannaggia, this is not pasta con le sarde“!! You are right! And I hope I will have the opportunity one day to taste it the way it ought to be done. But my version luckily turned out to be pretty scrumptious as well. This dish is a real flavor bomb, with the sardines giving it a very fishy taste, of course. But what makes this dish so interesting to me is the combination with the nutty flavors of the pine nuts and the candied fruit of the dried raisins. Not an obvious combination, but it works!
Now, how do you pair this with wine? Well, actually I didn’t have to think long to find a good match. And no, it wasn’t Italian. Although it very well could have been, such as a Sicilian cataratto. I just didn’t happen to have this at home. I actually paired it with a very simple white bordeaux : the Labottière Réserve 2013 of Cordier. This is a wine that costs about 7€, so nothing exclusive here. It’s produced by a big négociant that produces more than 3 million bottles per year, so no story to be told about an artisanal wine made by a small producer. And this is also no discovery by a passionate wine shop keeper who sells this to those in the know. Oh goodness… Why do I even write about this?! For a good reason : this is a very enjoyable wine. Back in 2015 when I drank it for the first time, it still had the typical grassy aroma’s of sauvignon blanc, together with wood aroma’s that were still clearly noticeable. Today, this has evolved to a wine where everything has come together. The wood has blended in nicely and supports the pineapple and candied lemon. Beautiful acidity also that makes this wine very zingy despite its ripe fruit.
So how was the match? Well, let’s go back to the dish. The briny, fishy flavors of the sardines were matched nicely with the freshness of the wine. The candied fruit of the dried raisins was echoed beautifully with the pineapple and the candied lemon. And the wood flavors in the wine found their match in the pine nuts. It doesn’t happen that often that all the components of a wine match with the ones in the dish. Sometimes you hope that they will, but then there’s something that doesn’t quite work out the way you wanted it. Or the chemistry simply doesn’t work the way you had hoped. In this case, I knew very quickly which wine I wanted with the dish because I was pretty sure this was going to work. And I’m glad it did!
Disclaimer : I did not get this bottle for free. I bought it. The risk of recommending a cheap supermarket bordeaux from a big négociant is entirely mine.