sarde a beccafico: Sicilian stuffed sardines
(Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, Regaleali, Sicilia, Italia)
A beccafico is a small bird whose name literally means “beaks figs.” In ancient times, the Sicilian Nobles would hunt these birds and the meat was so tender they would be able to eat them whole. Poor Sicilians would use sardines, instead, and cover the strong taste with the fragrant citrus and sweet filling.
The Sicilian dish “Sarde a Beccafico” is made of filleted fresh sardines that are cured with lemon juice then filled with breadcrumbs, olive oil, pine nuts, raisins, salt and sugar. Sometimes we roll them up, perfectly packed tightly into a baking dish with slices of orange (or lemon) and fresh bay leaves in between. Another preparation would be open-faced with the filling made into more of a paste like us East coast Americans would make a crabcake. With many Sicilian dishes, there are regional variations in the ingredients. For example, the richer and sweeter baked version using pine nuts, raisins, sugar and lemon combo is traditional in Palermo. On the other side of the island, in Catania, the Sarde a Beccafico are fried as a sandwich of two sardines with the filling on the inside.