“Sarde a beccafico”: Sicilian ingenuity in a dish
This Sicilian delicacy is the result of the inventiveness of the island's people, who handed down in time a poor but delicious preparation
In the past, Sicilian nobles used to hunt warblers (beccaficu in Sicilian dialect), a kind of bird which they stuffed with their own entrails and served as a specialty. This dish was considered a luxury and so not accessible to the common people, who, however, found cheap way to replicate this delicacy. In their ingenuity, they started using sardines, more widely available and inexpensive than game, and stuffed them with breadcrumbs.
The recipe, which even Inspector Montalbano enjoys, comes in different versions. In the Sicilian capital, Palermo, the sardines, without bones and head but with the tail still on, are rolled on a mixture of breadcrumbs, chopped garlic and parsley, raisins, pine nuts, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil, and baked in the oven. A variation has the rolls put on a skewer with bay leaves. Moreover, there is also another version that is typical of the eastern side of the island, specifically in Catania and Messina: after removing head and bones, or asking your fishmonger to do so, rinse them under running water and prepare the mixture mentioned above and add pecorino cheese – more popular in Catania – to make the fish even more flavourful. This a poor but delicious dish comes with a small nod to its inspiration: in the standard preparation, the tail of the fish resembles a beak.