Back in San Francisco: saffron spaghetti with sardines sauce and upcoming classes

Saffron spaghetti Forgive me the silence of this month, I have been in transition between my 3 points of reference in the world. Yearned for Italy, then a packed week in New York City and finally back to school in San Francisco.

The first few days back after my summers away always demand readjusting to the surprises of habit. The kitchen is where I head first: until the refrigerator is organized by shelf, the pantry alphabetized by genre, area and season and the pots and pans hung just so, home still fells a little far.

The Husband always watches amused, knowing that, no matter how arbitrary and incomprehensible the system seems, indulging this particular foible is a necessary step to fully reclaim me and dull the ache for the other places in my heart.

So he copes, aware that the process crystallizes the culinary inspirations I've garnered over the summer for the season ahead of teachings and writings and that, furthermore, his stomach will be victorious in the end.

Before I go, let me share my fall classes calendar.

I look forward to seeing you all on line or in one or another of my classes, until then, enjoy this snippet of cooking fun to come.

Spaghetti allo zafferano con sugo di sardine Saffron spaghetti with sardines sauce

for 6 people:Pasta con le sarde

for the spaghetti 1 pinch saffron threads 2 tablespoons dry white wine1/2 pound white flour 1/3 pound fine semolina 1 pinch salt 3 eggs

for the sauce 3 cups tender tips of wild fennel 1 pound fresh sardines 2 medium sweet yellow onions 2 pinches saffron threads 1/4 cup small raisins or currants olive oil grated zest of 1 lemon 1/4 cup pine nuts salt and pepper to taste

Let's talk about the wild fennel: this recipe is my interpretation of a Sicilian classic which strictly calls for wild fennel-finocchietto. Where I live, in Northern California, all I have to do is stop by the side of the road to forage for it. I actually like to gather it from my child's school yard, where it has artfully colonized the corner by the entrance closest to his classroom.

The seasons for abundant sardines harvest and renewed fennel shrubs, spring to early fall, coincide in Sicily and somewhat here, making this a dish significant in place and time. For those who have no such easy excess to wild fennel, no matter the time of year, I suggest trying a mixture of dill and fennel tops (you can keep the bulb for a salad) and let me know what comes.

To make the spaghetti: toast and grind the saffron and melt it in the white wine. Mix the flours and salt and arrange them in a well. Crack the eggs in the middle and add the wine and saffron.

Start working the liquids with a fork gradually incorporating the flour. When the mixture becomes too dense to be stirred with a fork, use your hands to bring the dough together. Once you have incorporated all the flour, knead for about 15 minutes until you have a smooth and rather elastic ball which will snap back into place when pulled.

Wrap the ball tightly in plastic and place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the sauce.

Wash the fennel well and cook in salted hot water for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. In the meantime, slit and gut the sardines, remove their heads and spines. Pick off the remaining bones, rinse and pat dry.

Slice the onions in paper thin half moons. Toast and grind the saffron. Soak the raisins in warm water.

Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and sauté the sardine fillets for 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside. Do not clean the skillet or get rid of its contents.

Drain the fennel and chop it quite finely.

Heat 1 to 2 additional tablespoons of olive oil to the sardine skillet and put in the zest and saffron. After 1 minute add the onion, salt generously and leave to soften over gentle heat for 15 to 20 minutes stirring often.

Add the fennel, drained raisins and pine nuts, continue cooking the sauce for about 20 to 25 minutes over low heat and partially covered, gradually adding small amounts of water as necessary.

Add the sardine fillets, mashing them with a wooden spoon. Add a bit more water and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper.

While the sauce is cooking, cut the ball of pasta dough in 4 to 5 pieces and, using a straight rolling pin or a pasta machine, roll each piece into a strip about 1/8" thick. Let the strips rest for about 10 minutes.

To make the spaghetti, I push each strip to a gadget called chitarra, literally a guitar, which hails from Abruzzo and yields square section strips which I really like. I am aware this isn't exactly a tool to be found in every home, so do this instead: fold each strip in 4 along its longer side, then cut thin strips about 1/8" wide. Unfold the spaghetti, dust them with semolina and place them on a tray to dry until you are ready to use them.

Because of the semolina percentage in the dough and because of the cutting technique and size, you will yield pasta with perfect, slightly resistant bite. Do not expect the velvet like texture of the more commonly known pasta made with soft wheat flour and eggs, rather a springy, resilient piece of dough which hangs on to its sauce and shape.

Lower your spaghetti in salted boiling water and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes. Using a handheld strainer or tongs, transfer them into the skillet with the sardines sauce and add a bit of the pasta water to finish cooking over high heat, stirring and moving the pan around.

Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately.