Pasta con le Sarde is sometimes called the national dish of Sicily. Unlike the classic recipe, this modest version has no saffron; it also has less fennel and fewer sardines. The sweetened breadcrumb topping is special for San Giuseppe's day. The sardines must be as fresh as possible.
1/2 pound (225 g) fennel
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 pound (450 g) fresh sardines, cleaned
2 salted anchovies, filleted and rinsed, or 4 canned anchovy fillets
Skillet or sauté pan (if you toast your breadcrumbs first), saucepan, pasta pot.
BOIL the fennel for 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain and finely chop. Set aside.
COMBINE the onion, sardines, anchovies, and olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté until the onion is golden, the sardines break up, and the anchovies dissolve, about 10 minutes.
STIR in the wild fennel, pine nuts, and currants and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve 3 tablespoons of tomato sauce for the topping and add the rest to the sardine mixture. Cover and simmer until the sauce does not separate, 25 to 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
TOAST the breadcrumbs in a large skillet. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and the reserved 3 tablespoons tomato sauce. Set aside.
WHEN ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and mix with the sauce. Top with some of the breadcrumb mixture.