Smoked mackerel pasta

This is my version of a Nigella recipe (from her Nigellissma book) which in turn is based on a traditional Sicilian recipe – pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines). I’ve eaten pasta con le sarde in Sicily, in a small village, in a traditional family run restaurant where it was the house speciality. The waiters draped us with huge napkins tied around our necks, like toddlers, and just as well as the spaghetti sauce was very messy to eat. The restaurant was packed with satisfied diners and full of atmosphere. The food was exactly what you expect in Italy – a simple recipe using affordable but incredibly fresh ingredients.

Nigella has substituted smoked mackerel for the sardines to make it more local to our shores, but the rest of the ingredients are very typical of the Sicilian larder – sultanas, pine nuts, capers and Marsala wine. I’ve also added creme fraiche because I like a creamier sauce.

This has become one of my frequent mid week dinners and I love the fact it is so quick to rustle up – everything is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta.


Serves 2

  • 200g pasta (such as spaghetti, linguine, tagliatelle)
  • 50g golden sultanas
  • 1 banana shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 60ml Marsala
  • 2 fillets smoked mackerel, skinned and flaked
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • A few drops of red wine vinegar
  • 25g toasted pine nuts
  • Heaped tablespoon of creme fraiche
  • A few fronds of dill, chopped.
  • Olive oil
  • Salt for the pasta water
  • Black pepper for seasoning


  1. Put a kettle on to boil for the pasta water. Use some of the boiled water to soak the sultanas in a small cup.
  2. Cook the pasta in the water with plenty of salt.
  3. Warm the oil in a frying pan and gently cook the shallot. Add the Marsala, let it bubble and then straightaway add the mackerel, drained sultanas, capers, red wine vinegar.
  4. Just before draining the pasta add some of the water to the mackerel mixture. Stir in the creme fraiche.
  5. Toast the pine nuts by heating them for about a minute in a dry frying pan.
  6. Mix the pasta and the sauce, season with pepper, toss over the pine nuts and garnish with dill.

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