One of my favourite Italian antipasti, perfect for an aperitif is sarde in saor – fried fresh sardine fillets marinated in softly cooked white onions, usually with vinegar, raisins and pine nuts, all preferably prepared the day before serving.
The sharpness of the vinegar wakens the tastebuds, while the sweetness of the odd raisin here or there and the creamy nuttiness of the pine nuts balances the sourness. It is the ultimate sweet and sour, or agrodolce, dish.
Sarde in Saor
12 fresh sardines, cleaned, heads and backbone removed and butterflied
Flour for dusting
Vegetable, seed or olive oil for frying
Some white wine
a handful of raisins
1 white onion
250 ml of white wine vinegar
1 clove, ground or crushed
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground or crushed
freshly ground black pepper
a handful of pine nuts
Dust the sardine fillets in flour and deep fry in plenty of oil until golden and crisp. Season with salt and set aside on some paper towel to drain until needed.
Soak the raisins in some white wine to soften them. Meanwhile, slice the white onion finely and saute gently in some olive oil until they are transparent, then add the vinegar, pepper and spices. Let it cook for a few minutes then remove from heat.
In a small terrine or deep dish, place a layer of sardines, top them with some of the onions, some of the raisins (drained) and pine nuts, and continue layering until the sardines are used up, then top with a layer of onions, raisins, pine nuts and finish with the vinegar sauce poured over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate at least 24 hours before serving.
Serve as part of an antipasto, together with a selection of olives and crostini. These are best eaten at room temperature, removing from the fridge a couple of hours beforehand.