Italian Fennel and Herring Sauce Recipe

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This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

Italian Fennel and Herring Sauce RecipeFennel and Herring Sauce 


• 1 kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of fennel (tender anise leaves may be substituted if necessary)

• 500 grams of fresh small herring fillets (actually large sardines as long as 20 centimetres, or about 8 inches)

• 500 grams of long pasta such as thick spaghetti (bucatini is traditional; it’s long like spaghetti but tubular)

• 2 medium-size sweet white onions

• extra virgin olive oil

• 1 teaspoon of powdered saffron

• 50 grams of small raisins

• 50 grams of pine nuts

• 3 large anchovy fillets (salted or in oil) finely chopped

• salt

• pepper

• sugar


1• Clean the sardines (herring), removing the head, tail and bone.

2• Cut the fish into pieces about 4 centimetres (2 inches) long.

3• Thoroughly rinse the fennel and chop it into fine pieces about 2 centimetres long, removing any thick stalks.

4• Dice the onions and anchovies into very small pieces.

5• Steam the fennel for 3 or 4 minutes and then strain it thoroughly, but save the greenish water for the pasta.

6• Boil this water (strain it first) and add the pasta.

7• Meanwhile, sautè the onions in a large pan for a minute or two in olive oil until almost transparent.

8• Then mix in the anchovy and herring.

9• Cover the mixture, occasionally stirring gently.

10• Flaking of the herrinng is natural. When the rather liquid mixture is cooked (which should only take a few minutes) minutes, remove from heat and stir in the saffron, raisins and pine nuts.

11• Add a teaspoon of sugar if desired. Mix the fennel into the mixture, taking care that the fennel strands don’t stick together too much. The mixture should be as uniform as possible.

12• By now, the pasta may be ready. Strain the pasta and carefully stir a teaspoon or two of olive oil into it.

13• Then add the fennel-herring mixture, thoroughly stirring it into the pasta until it is more or less uniformly distributed.

14• Let the entire mixture set for a minute or two. Then mix it again, adding a dash of pepper and, if you prefer, salt, and serve. 

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