Loretta Sebastiani

Loretta Sebastiani
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Beccafico sardines
( Sarde a beccafico )

Traditional recipe of Sicily

Beccafico sardines I propose is a recipe made according to the cuisine of Palermo. Sardines are rolled around a mixture of raisins, pine nuts, breadcrumbs, sugar, parsley and then cooked in the oven. They are very tasty, suitable to be served as main course as well as a starter. Match white wine, the advice below. Recipe of beccafico sardines, Catania-style provides different filling and cooking technique. As you can read beccafico style is the way of cooking this kind of bluefish in Sicily.

difficulty: easy

time: 1 h 10 minutes

calories: 460 (kCal)

Ingredients / Serves 4

  • 800g (1 3/4 pound) fresh sardines
  • 70g (2 1/2 ounces) plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 50g (1 3/4 ounce) raisins
  • 40g (1 1/2 ounce) pine nuts
  • 10g (1/2 ounce) granulated sugar
  • Some sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • Some dried bay leaves
  • 1 lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper if liked
easy recipe
preparation: 40 minutes
cooking: 30 minutes
total: 1 h 10 minutes
How many calories in a serving?
Calories: 460 (kcal) 23 % - 1923 (kJ)
Protein: 34.3 (g) 69 % GDA
Total fat: 24.3 (g) 35 % GDA
Total carbohydrate: 27.7 (g) 11 % GDA
Sugars: 15.0 (g) 17 % GDA

Download free PDF version (337 download).

Recipe for beccafico sardines

Preparation and cooking

Beccafico sardines placed in the pan before baking
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Sardines in the pan before cooking
  • - Prepare sardines.
    Cut head, gut and open them by removing the central bone but trying to keep their tail.
    Scale and wash quickly under running water.
    Pat dry with absorbent kitchen paper.
  • - Prepare filling.
    Soak raisins in warm water.
    Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
    Line a baking sheet with aluminum.
    Sprinkle 60g (2.1 ounces) breadcrumbs on it.
    Bake until golden.
    Meanwhile clean and wash parsley.
    Pat dry with absorbent kitchen paper.
    Chop finely.
    Transfer breadcrumbs onto a bowl.
    Add 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, pine nuts, raisisns well squeezed from their soaking water, parsley and sugar.
    Season to taste with salt and pepper.
    Stir very well.
  • - Prepare the baking sheet.
    Use the same aluminum-lined baking sheet of the previous step for toasting breadcrumbs.
    Sprinkle 2 teaspoons olive oil on aluminum surface.
  • - Fill sardines.
    Distribuite a little of filling on every sardine from head to tail but keep free the part near the tail.
    This will prevent the filling from coming out too much.
    Roll sardines from head to tail.
    Place each sardine in the baking dish so they can be well close together as you can see in the photo.
    Place bay leaves among your rolled sardines.
    If you have any filling left you can sprinkle it on sardines.
    Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs on sardines.
    Add the remaining olive oil to lemon juice and beat to an emulsion.
    Spoon lemon-and-oil emulsion on sardines.
  • - Bake for about 20 minutes.

Just before serving

  • - Arrange your beccafico sardines on serving or individual plate and serve immediately.



  • - Choose not too small, medium size sardines. They must be plump and fresh.
  • - The best seasons in the year to taste sardines are summer and winter.
  • - I propose you the authentic recipe for sardines, beccafico-style in summer when there are no oranges. In winter lemon is replaced by orange. And according to my husband and I sardines are even tastier.
  • - Sardines beccafico-style owe their name to their origin of which I speak below. Rolling them from head to tail keeps out their tail that may remind that one of a bird, a warbler precisely. Now, it is not always easy to keep the tail intact, especially when sardines are fresh and removing their  central bone may become further complicated. So do not worry if some sardines will be without their tail ^_-
  • - There are obviously many variations for this recipe as always it happens with the traditional Italian cuisine. Someone, for example, is used to add orange or lemon zest to the filling. Someone else garlic. In summer I add a little of fresh chives.
    You can read in other recipe directions to toast breadcrumbs in olive oil. I never make it because I think this dish may become indigestible.
  • - Beccafico sardines, Catania-style. Sardines, cleaned as I've just described above, are marinated in white vinegar for a couple of hours. Then the excess of marinade is removed with absorbent kitchen paper. Filling is made with eggs, breadcrumbs, grated pecorino or caciocavallo cheese, garlic and parsley. This filling is spooned on half the sardines. Then sardines are coupled, belly to belly, one with the stuffing and the other without. They are dipped onto beaten eggs and then all-purpose flour or breadcrumbs and, at last, fried. They are served cold or hot.
    In Messina, another important city in Sicily, preparation and cooking technique is similar but sardines, once fried, can be flavored in tomato-caper-and-olive sauce.

Menu planning

  • - Generally I serve beccafico sardines as starter. In winter I combine this bluefish dish with orange salad (link below) to open a fish menu. In summer I serve them in skewers as finger food while people is waiting for grilled fish, perfect appetizers in my outdoor BBQ.
  • - Reading my previous tip somebody of us may be wondering why I don't serve this sardine dish as second course. I'll explain my reason in "Healthy eating" below. Sardines are to be tasted in our daily menu in much simpler recipes ;)

Useful links for this recipe

  • - Here's the recipe for orange salad!
  • - Consult our index about sea fish to know other sardine recipes.

Healthy eating

  • - Everyone looking at calories of beccafico sardines may think they are not very high. In reality you have to consider how much is the portion and comparing it to the amount of calories you can eat in one meal (500 - 700). In your dish you can count only 4 to 5 sardines. So, the question is: may beccafico sardines be your daily menu? I would say not. They are a delicacy and so you have to prepare them for your special invitations.
  • - Fiber per head: 2.1 grams (daily intake: 23 grams).

What's the right wine for " Beccafico sardines "?

When my husband and I prepare beccafico sardines, a very infrequent delicacy for us (what a pity!), we match Alcamo bianco or Delia Nivolelli bianco (both are white wines of Sicily). On the other hand, we believe that every traditional dish must be eaten with a local wine and Sicily produces great white wines ;)
The same wines can be matched to many other dishes based on sea fish.

A little history

Palermitan beccafico sardines is a recipe born in the most disadvantaged members of this area centuries ago.
In the houses of Sicilian noblemen servants cooked and served warblers. These little birds, feeding on figs in summer and early autumn, became particularly tasty. Diners were fond of their innards and stuffing and ate these birds taking them by the tail.
Game was too expensive for poor people that have tried to repeat the recipe with what they could buy, precisely sardines. Do you understand now the presence of tails in beccafico sardines and the name of this recipe? beccafico is the Italian name for warblers ;)

Fish wasn't fresh frequently and pine nuts have made their appearance in the filling for this reason. At the time it was believed that pine nuts could eliminate gastrointestinal problems associated with fish when not fresh.