Each region in Italy boasts a distinct culinary heritage. While it might be intuitive to think local traditions and ingredients formed each cuisine, there are many dishes and flavors that come from regions far beyond the Italic Peninsula.
A prime example of this is the famous Venetian Sarde in Saor, or sweet and sour sardines. The dish originates in the Middle East, and consists of sardines or other small white fish marinated in vinegar and raisins or currants. In order for the fish to fully absorb the sweet and sour flavors, Sarde in Saor is best when made in advance.
The dish’s story begins in Sicily in the 15th century, where over 100,000 Jews were living. Their economic role was so important that when the Inquisition swept through the Spanish controlled territories, which included Sicily, the Viceroy managed to hold it off for over 20 years. Eventually political pressure forced Sicily to participate in the religious persecution, but not before the Viceroy was able to warn the Jews of the imminent danger and advise them to escape. Thus, they fled to Naples, Rome, Ferrara and Venice, and took with them their precious culinary traditions. Today, over 500 years later, Sarde in Saor is an integral part of Venice’s culture. Traditionally it is served during the city’s holiday, Feast of the Redeemer, a day of thanks and atonement that dates back to its great plague of 1576.
To try this Venetian specialty without having to travel to Venice, find our easy-to-do recipe below.
By Christopher O’Leary
11⁄4 lb. fresh sardines, gutted
1⁄2 c. flour
olive oil for frying
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onions, thinly sliced
1⁄4 c. raisins
1⁄4 c. pine nuts
11⁄2 c. white wine vinegar
1. Cut off the sardine fins and remove the heads. Rinse well inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. 2. In a large skillet medium-high heat, warm 1⁄2 inch of olive oil. Meanwhile, dredge the dried sardines in the flour and then fry. 3. When sardines are golden on both sides, remove from the skillet and place on paper towels to drain. Season with salt and allow to cool. 4. Discard the frying oil, wipe the pan clean, and heat the extra-virgin olive oil in the same pan over medium-low heat. 5. Add the onions and cook for at least 30 minutes, or until caramelized. Meanwhile, soak the raisins and pine nuts in hot water. 6. When the onions are browned, add the vinegar and let the mixture boil for 3 to 5 minutes. 7. Drain the raisins and pine nuts and squeeze out any excess water. 8. Layer the sardines in an 8-inch square baking dish. Pour some of the vinegar-onion mixture on top of each layer and sprinkle each layer with raisins and pine nuts. 9. When you have layered all the fish, pour over the remaining vinegaronion mixture so that all the fish are covered. 10 Cover the dish and refrigerate overnight to marinate. Serve cold or at room temperature. Serves 8
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