Fresh sardines are plentiful in Sicily , the island surrounded by sea – I would almost say that they are the seafood mascot of Palermo. ‘Pesce Azzurro’ ‘blue water fish’ my Zio calls them. They are such a versatile fish, a far cry from the tinned variety that we grew up on here in Australia. I have started to find fresh whole sardines a lot easier to source at good-quality fish mongers – just make sure that they are impeccably fresh as it makes such a difference. You will also need fresh bay leaves as it is a tradition to place a bay leaf in between each sardine, if you don’t have fresh bay leaves don’t use the dried, use thin slices of lemon instead. Use day-old or stale good-quality bread instead of the store bought bread crumbs and grate it or put it through the blender, it makes such a difference to the filling. If you are not a fan of sardines you can use swordfish, pounded veal or beef, or even slices of fried eggplant, as the iconic Sicilian sweet-and-sour flavour of this combination of ingredients will create a taste sensation from any of these alternatives. .
Marinate the sardine fillets with the olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper for 20 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, then add in the onions and anchovies and cook for 1 minute breaking up the anchovies with the back of a spoon.
Turn off the heat and add in the breadcrumbs, orange zest and juice, parsley, pine nuts and currants, (If the mix seems too dry and is crumbly add a little more olive oil and if it is too wet, then add more breadcrumbs.)
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Season the breadcrumb mixture with salt and pepper, then place a 2 teaspoonfuls at the head end of the sardine. Roll the sardine up to enclose the filling, finishing with the tail, and place it into an oiled ceramic baking dish , its best if they are reasonably tightly fitted into the dish. Repeat with the remaining breadcrumb mixture and sardines, placing a fresh bay leaf between each of the sardines in the dish.
Combine the remaining lemon juice and olive oil and pour this over the sardines.
Bake for 15 minutes until the sardines are cooked through. Serve hot.