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Perfect match: sardines and pinot grigio

Australian Gourmet Traveller recipe for sarde e beccafico.

By Alice Storey
  • Serves 6
  • 45 mins preparation
  • 20 mins cooking plus standing
Sarde e beccafico
Sarde e beccafico

In classic Mediterranean fashion, sweetness and sourness - "agrodolce" in Italian - run all the way through this beautiful summery dish: little nuggets of grapy sweetness plumped up and sharpened in vinegar; sour breadcrumbs; the mouth-coating depth of parmesan cut through with a fresh squeeze of lemon. My instinctive match for sardines is a bone-dry southern Italian varietal white wine such as a vermentino, because its naturally high acidity is perfect for cutting through the meaty oiliness of the fish. But because of all that agrodolce action I'm going to go with pinot grigio instead: even when it's made into a crisp, dry style, good grigio has a heart of sweet grapy fruitiness that will match this dish wonderfully well. After a few years of being seen as an alternative grape in Australia, pinot grigio is now part of our vinous mainstream: it is, believe it or not, the country's fourth or fifth most widely planted white wine grape. Confusingly, winemakers can use either of the grape's synonyms - the French "gris" or Italian "grigio" - on the label, but alcohol content is usually a good guide to style: if it's less than 13 per cent (as all the wines here are), it's likely to be in the lighter, crisper, fish-friendly Italian grigio style.

Not normally Max Allen’s first choice with sardines, pinot grigio is his pick when the fish are served agrodolce-style.


  • 60 ml red wine vinegar (¼ cup)
  • 40 gm currants (¼ cup)
  • 30 gm pine nuts
  • 120 gm coarse sourdough breadcrumbs
  • 60 gm parmesan, finely grated
  • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 24 sardines, butterflied
  • 24 fresh bay leaves (halved if large)


  • 1
    Combine vinegar and currants in a bowl and set aside until currants are plump (30 minutes).
  • 2
    Preheat oven to 190C. Scatter pine nuts on an oven tray and roast, shaking occasionally, until golden (3-4 minutes). Set aside.
  • 3
    Combine currants, breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, lemon rind, half the lemon juice and 40ml olive oil in a bowl and season to taste.
  • 4
    Place sardines on a work surface skin-side down. Working with a sardine at a time, place 1 tbsp breadcrumb mixture on one end, roll to enclose filling, secure with a toothpick and thread on a bay leaf. Repeat with remaining sardines, breadcrumb mixture and bay leaves. Place in an oven dish lined with baking paper, drizzle with orange juice, remaining lemon juice and remaining oil, season to taste and bake until golden and cooked through (12-15 minutes). Serve warm with lemon wedges, and radicchio and rocket salad.


Note This dish is named after the beccafico, a species of warbler. (Its name translates loosely as "bird that pecks at figs".) Sicilians once hunted and cooked the birds and served them with their tail feathers intact for ease of grasping and eating. The sardines, rolled up with their tails sticking out, resemble those little birds. Drink suggestion by Max Allen