This Year’s Venice Carnival Concentrates On Food – So Here’s An Appropriate Recipe For Heretical Sweet And Sour Sardines

This year’s carnival in Venice is now in full swing. In addition to the usual annual revelry which began in the eleventh century, this year the city has added a blaze of sweetmeats and other culinary surprises in homage to the origins of the celebrations as well as to the main theme of this year’s Expo in Milan, “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life”. The celebrations begin about two weeks before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent when traditionally Christians fast; and end on Shrove Tuesday, which also has come to be known around the world as ‘carnival’ – or ‘carne vale’ (late latin, ‘farewell to meat’) see ‘how to make pancakes’ for more information.

So this year’s celebrations are being billed as ‘La festa più golosa del mondo’ – the world’s greediest festival and Venice is showcasing the best of its local food and wine. Typical venetian dishes to savour are sarde in soar (sardines marinated and fried with sweet and sour onions, and pine nuts and raisins) or galani (ribbons of super-soft pasta, fried and sprinkled with sugar.

But this year’s theme isn’t just limited to food itself – it permeates the whole carnival. Those competing for the best mask, for example, will need to be inspired by the fruit, vegetables and other food. At Arsenale – at one time the core of venetian naval power – they have set up markets and stalls evoking the exotic tastes and smells of past centuries. As well as concerts and plays there are also exhibitions centered on a culinary theme. Churches which contain paintings on this theme are identified – for example the Wedding Feast of Cana or the Supper at Emmaus.

I’m making my contribution to the celebrations with a truly heretical version of sarde in soar – but I make no apology for using tinned sardines, and serving it warm which is NOT traditional. Originally the dish – which marries sardines with sweet and sour onions cooking in vinegar and olive oil – was developed by venetian sailors as a method of preserving food on long sea journeys. The raisins and pine nuts are a later addition. Technically the sardines are supposed to be layered with the onions and sauce and left to marinate for a day or two but this isn’t necessary for tinned sardines. If you don’t like sardines this would work well with either kippers or with skinned smoked mackerel.

A good lunch with a cool glass of lager…. and while you eat listen to this delightful new talent, Dana Zemtsov, playing Paganini’s Carnevale di Venezia – see below the recipe. And there’s some appropriate piano music, Mendelssohn’s Song Number 12, Venetian Gondolier. Or if you’d like something a bit more lively there is The Hot Sardines – an amazing American jazz band with a blustery brass section, a Fats Waller type virtuoso pianist, and a grainy lady vocalist.

If you don’t like sardines this would work well with either kippers or with skinned smoked mackerel.


  • 2 tins sardines in olive oil
  • 1 bulb of fennel
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 2 tbsp flour (well, a shaking anyway)
  • Smoked salt
  • Spanish sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 banana shallot
  • 120ml/½ cup pink Martini
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp fat sultanas
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 10 strands of saffron – soaked in warm water in an egg cup together with the cloves
  • Couple of pieces of raisin bread cut into small croûtons


  1. Dry fry the pine nuts – put to one side
  2. Drain the sardines, reserving the oil
  3. Fry the croutons and set aside with the pine nuts
  4. dredge the sardines with the flour, the salt and the paprika
  5. Fry for a couple of minutes, take out of the frying pan and keep warm
  6. Fry the shallot, the fennel and the celery in the same pan until translucent
  7. Add the maple syrup and the Martini
  8. Add the sultanas, the saffron and its water (remove the cloves first) and the bay leaf
  9. At the last minute mix in the pine nuts and croutons
  10. Serve, topped by the sardines


sweet and sour sardines
heretical maybe…. good to eat with a glass of beer… certainly
sweet and sour sardines
heretical maybe…. good to eat with a glass of beer… certainly



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