Sicilian Pasta With Swordfish, Fennel, Mint, and Bread Crumbs


[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

When my husband suggested that we go on a honeymoon in Sicily, I was skeptical.

The he turned to me and said, "They eat nothing but olive oil, swordfish, and almond granita."

I booked the tickets myself.

We started in Palermo and took a two-week road trip, driving around the island and up into the little volcanic specks that are Salina and Panarea. In that time, I drank olive oil fresh from the grove and hot off the press. I toasted our marriage with glasses of deep red and truest purple volcanic orange and grape juices. I stopped into Granite da Alfredo by boat, where the world's best granitas are made by a kindly man in a tiny town on a tiny island, and spooned my way through not only the almond, but the lemon granita too. The honeymoon was simply a movable feast.

After it all, my favorite dish was a pasta primi that I ate one night in Taormina at L'Arco Dei Cappuccini, outside under a canopy, nestled around a table, drinking in the night and the hum of laughter and conversation wafting over from around the terrace. It was a pasta with swordfish and wild fennel—a perennial special that is apparently always announced but is never on the menu. The pasta looked like elbow macaroni after a growth spurt: long, ridged, curling tubes. The cherry tomatoes were fresh, as they always seemed to be on that island. The wild fennel and its fronds were chopped into tiny slivers. And the swordfish was crumbled, firm and white. Altogether, it was like a maritime bolognese.

It's a popular dish, swordfish pasta. I had it with eggplant. With zucchini. With chilies. And in all the iterations, the swordfish was crumbled in that ingenious way that I had never considered before, and was so perfectly suited to the fish. As someone who prefers fish to meat, I felt like I had come into my perfectly suited spaghetti with meat sauce. And after tasting all the varieties available from Erice to Siracusa, my favorite was the one with wild fennel I had that night in Taormina.


In my version, I start with casarecce pasta, but you could use shells, corkscrews, fusilli, or even elbows. Sear the swordfish until it's just cooked through, then dice it as finely as you can. Blitz the fennel with mint, fennel fronds, and garlic to make a rubble, and then sweat it with olive oil. Follow them into the pot with cherry tomatoes, and let the tomatoes burst over the heat. Add the swordfish, tear in more fresh mint, add a pinch of chili if you want it, and toss it with the pasta. Leave it there, or crown it with a crunchy mess of toasted breadcrumbs, almonds, and fennel seed.

Dig into a giant bowl, or do what I did in Sicily: have it to start, and follow with a simply grilled giant swordfish steak, tasting only of olive oil, lemon, and the sea.