This is a traditional Sicilian dish using fresh sardines that are stuffed, rolled and baked.
Prepared in this manner, the sardines are said to resemble the beccafico, a tiny bird that
becomes fat from gorging on figs. During assembly, the tail of the fish is twisted upward in
imitation of the bird's tail. As always, there are a number of variations on this dish. Some
cooks add diced caciocavallo cheese to the stuffing and the stuffed sardines are dipped in
flour and fried instead of baked. Others soak the currants or raisins in Marsala wine or add
saffron to the filling. Because you need to buy fresh whole sardines and clean them before
adding the filling, this dish does take a bit of time to prepare. The sardines can be eaten as
an appetizer, a main course, or as an addition to an antipasto platter.
2-1/2 pounds fresh sardines (about 24)
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/3 cup currants
1 cup dried bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 to 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
To clean each sardine:
Cut off the head and fins; remove any scales. Split the fish open along the
belly and remove the viscera. Run your finger inside the fish the length of the
backbone. The fish should open flat like a book. Lift up and remove the
backbone, cutting it off at the tail. Repeat with the remaining sardines. Rinse
the fish well, pat dry, and set aside.
To make the filling:
Add the currants to 1/3 cup of hot water and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Drain the currants and set them aside. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a small
saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs. Cook, stirring
constantly, until moistened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for
another minute; remove from heat. Add the currants, pine nuts, capers,
parsley, and cheese. Mix well; season with salt and pepper.
To assemble the sardines and stuffing:
Select a baking dish large enough to fit all the sardines once they are rolled.
Lightly oil the baking dish. Open a sardine flat, skin side down on your work
surface. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling near the wide end of the fish.
Roll the fish around the stuffing toward the tail. Place the rolled fish, tail up, in
the prepared baking dish. Repeat with the remaining sardines. Pack them
tightly in the baking dish so that they don’t unroll. Insert bay leaves between
the fish rolls. (You can assemble the dish up to this point and refrigerate for up
to 4 hours.)
To bake the sardines:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together 4 tablespoons
of oil, lemon and orange juice. Pour the mixture over the sardines.
Bake until the fish are firm, about 15 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room