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Letters from Readers: Wine Pairing for Pasta Con le Sarde

24 Dec

I love when readers reach out looking for wine suggestions. So it made me happy when broadcast audio engineer and self-described beer aficionado Stevie G reached out and sent me a wine pairing inquiry. He sent a recipe link he was prepping from Serious Eat’s Pasta Con Le Sarde, what he calls “a pretty traditional Holiday dish from Sicily”. “So I was thinking,”, he said, “What wine would JvB pair with this?”

Good question, indeed.

My stomach thought, “Wow that sounds good right about now…”


My memory banks were recalling the reflection of the sun on the ocean, and the smell of the Mediterranean when going from Sicily to Sardinia, and the delicious flavors that accompanied every meal. 

From my travels, heading to Sardinia- Jim van Bergen

 

While touring the region, I had a similar dish. It was simply delicious. The balance of saffron with toasted fennel, superbly fresh sardines, and pine nuts is an unusual, savory,  and delicious treat for the palate. 

 

The Serious Eats recipe that Stevie shared calls for saffron steeped in warmed white wine, which I think elevates the recipe. My reaction was pretty immediate: Salivating!  Thinking of the flavor profiles, my wine training leaps into action with two answers, no questions: Either Grillo, from Sicily or Vermentino, from Sardinia. Knowing that the zesty, fruity, dry and fresh Vermentino is more easily found on nrighborhood wine stores, my reply to Stevie G blurts out.

“For Pasta Con la Sarde, I would pair an un-oaked vermentino from Sardinia! The dish needs fresh, herbal, and citrus components to maintain the delicate palate and balance with the fresh sardine, pasta, fennel & saffron.”

Stevie was pretty blasé. 

“Cool. I don’t drink white much, but heck I’ll give it a shot. What could possibly go wrong ?”

I found it hard to process when someone asks for a wine suggestion, but then says they don’t drink much white wine. I know what he meant: He doesn’t drink it. For a moment, I wondered if I’d hear back, or if Stevie would pull out a beer and ignore my suggestion. But my phone went off, my mind shifted elsewhere, and I focused on other things until I heard back.


Stevie G’s dish 

Only a day later, Stevie wrote me again, and shared the above image. 

“Yeah… You DO know about your wines. The pairing was great! Both fruity notes complemented each other. The coolness of the vermentino helped temper the four-spice spiciness. Thanks for the Holiday recommendation! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, as well!”

 

All’s well that ends well, no? Except that if you are remotely hungry, you are now thinking about making this recipe… because it’s delicious. 

 

A memory of finding great local wines while touring Italy

I did a little digging looking for the origin of this dish, trying to understand the recipe a little better. In Messina, the sauce is made in a ‘white’ style, without the saffron. So I started searching for an origin story, and found one!


Bolognese Foodie & blogger Filippo from PhilosKitchen.com tells the backstory of this recipe & story on his blog that I have excerpted below:

The origin of Sicilian sardines pasta is intertwined with an act of rebellion and revenge.

At the beginning of the 9th Century A.D., Euphemius of Messina, the commander of the Byzantine navy had been a man of power. According to the legend, the influence of Euphemius was too much for the Byzantine empire; so, the Emperor Michael II the Amorian ordered the demotion and the mutilation of the nose of the Commander on charges of the presumed kidnapping and marrying a nun.

In response to that accusations, that Euphemius considered outrageous, the former commander retreated in Africa along with a clutch of trusted men and hooked up with the Saracens.

On June 14 827, Euphemius sailed to the southern coast of Sicily and reached the bay of Capo Granitola, near to Mazara del Vallo after a three-day storm. The Saracens sailors were tired and hungry. The pantry was almost empty, and the soldiers needed an energetic meal before the battle.


At this moment the cook of the boat prepared a dish with the few ingredients at his disposal: wild fennel, pine nuts, dried pasta, saffron, raisin and the sardines caught in the water of the Sicilian bay. The legend says the Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde has been born that day!

 

 

And there it is. Thanks Stevie G! Cheers, Happy Holidays, and a Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones. 

 

à votre santé!

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