A traditional Sicilian dish made with sardines, sarde a beccafico or "sardines like little warblers" was given the name because the stuffed sardines look like these fat little birds. The name "beccafico" literally means fig-picker, which is one of the daily occupations of these little birds (beccare = pick, fico = fig). In years past, nobility in Sicily actually used to eat these little birds, considering them delicious, and cooking them with organs still inside. Of course, fat little birds weren't available for everyone to eat. Those who weren't in Sicily's One Percent had to make do with a delicious and inspired imitation.
The main part of the filling for the sardines is the "pangrattato", breadcrumbs made from dry white bread. In every classic Sicilian kitchen there's a cloth bag in which breadcrumbs made from dry bread is kept. A major highlight of this recipe is the sweet-and-sour glaze, which has the name "agrodolce" and emphasizes the taste of the fish without overpowering it.
By the way: "Agrodolce" is also the name of an Italian soap opera set on location in Sicily in the picturesque village of Santa Nicolicchia in Santa Flavia.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
For the filling, mix the ingredients so that it's spreadable. If it is too firm, add olive oil. If it's too liquidy, add some pangrattato.
Stir well with salt and pepper. Simmer the sardines, spread the filling, roll the sardines and place them in an oiled pan. Between every 2 sardines put a bay leaf, and spread the lemon slices around on top.
For the glaze, mix the olive oil and lemon juice with sugar to taste (don't use too little sugar). Pour over the sardines and cook the whole thing in the pre-heated oven for about 15-20 minutes.
A great way to serve this is with fresh white bread and a green salad.
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