Inspired by his travels in Sicily, James Beard award-winning chef Jeff Michaud, of Philadelphia's Osteria and Amis restaurants, created this luscious mix of celebrated southern Italian ingredients. "Every bite packs in so much flavor," he says, "and the coarse panko bread crumbs add texture without absorbing too much liquid." Go on a virtual journey with Michaud by delving into his book, Eating Italy: A Chef's Culinary Adventure ($35; amazon.com). Read on for the recipe.
Orecchiette with Fennel, Olives, and Bread Crumbs
1 lb dried orecchiette
½ cup olive oil, divided
½ cup plain panko bread crumbs
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
A pinch of salt
1 small onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise, core discarded
3 cloves garlic, smashed
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup oil-cured olives, pitted and quartered
¼ tsp crushed red-pepper flakes
6 oil-packed sardines, cleaned (skin on), filleted, chopped
¼ cup grated Grana Padano cheese, plus extra for garnish
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orecchiette; cook until al dente. Reserve 1½ cups pasta water; drain pasta.
2. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add bread crumbs; cook until lightly browned, 4–6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 tbsp parsley, and salt to taste. Remove from pan; set aside.
3. Heat remaining 6 tbsp oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add onion, fennel, and garlic; cook until fennel is tender, 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Remove and discard garlic. Stir in pine nuts, raisins, olives, pepper flakes, and reserved pasta water. Add drained pasta; toss until sauce and pasta are creamy, 2–3 minutes.
5. Stir in sardines, cheese, and remaining 2 tbsp parsley; cook until sardines are heated through, 1 minute. Season with salt.
6. Serve with cheese and toasted bread crumbs.