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The Tin Man

Fabio Trabocchi's spicy, sardine-laced pasta gives new life to your tinned fish
Bucatini with sardines
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table 

"Let Christmas begin," Fabio Trabocchi says as he opens tins filled with brine-soaked cockles, paprika-scented octopus and sardines in olive oil (get our favorite tins).

Sure, they're nothing like the spiny lobsters carted over from Mallorca, Spain, or the elegant Baja clams he barely touches at Fiola Mare, his seafood palace on the Potomac River in D.C. But still, there's something magical about popping open a can of these carefully preserved little fish: It's called bucatini with sardines, Espelette and dill (see the recipe).

"It's a classic regional Sardinian recipe called pasta con la sarde," Trabocchi says. "We're going to take the dish and recreate it with the tinned fish we have today. It's finished with fresh dill, and there's a hint of spice that actually comes from Spain, the Espelette pepper, a crunch and a buttery note with the toasted almonds."

Trabocchi has a way with words and writes lyrical recipes. He lets the garlic "flutter" in the oil and the tinned fish "melt" into the Espelette-charged oil, all before "flipping" slippery, toothsome strands of fat bucatini into the fragrantly fishy sauce. And for the final flourish, he gives us a mini lesson in Italian.

"Aneto," he says twice. "It's the wild dill that grows in the south part of Italy. You drive down Sicily, and there's dill growing on the side of the road."

This Spanish-Sicilian mash-up dish is a bit of a departure for him. What he normally cooks is inspired by his upbringing in Marche, Italy, where he would wake up to his father's Sunday sauce simmering with sausages and ribs and lines of gnocchi dough being rolled out.

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"We're in a region where we have mountains in our backyard and a lot of sea in front of us," Trabocchi says. "And that influences a lot of the cooking. There's not only one region for seafood or just meat products or vegetables, rather it's a bit of everything."

He's getting back to those roots—those carb-laden roots—with his upcoming D.C. pasta shop, Sfoglina, a tribute to the little Italian ladies who make fresh pasta. But that's a long ways off, later this fall to be exact. Right now, there's still many tinned fishes to try (watch the video to see how he uses them).

"Straight from the tin, over grilled bread, with pasta, in a salad of fresh citrus," Trabocchi says. "It's delicious in its simplicity."

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