I picked up (downloaded) Sara Poole’s The Borgia Betrayal purely because I was in the mood for some high-drama historical fiction, which I felt the title promised. And it did deliver! It turns out this was her second book starring Francesca the Poisoner, but I didn’t feel I had missed anything by not reading the original. As one may deduce from the title, Francesca is Pope Rodrigo Borgia’s pet poisoner. Although she is more than capable of offing his many, many enemies, most of her work involves the detection of poisons aimed at the Borgia family. Now, with his daughter’s wedding fast approaching, the discovery of the New World setting off political bombs, and the rise of an ultra-conservative fanatic group, Francesca finds both herself and La Famiglia targeted by unseen enemies. Francesca loves good simple food, which is rather more decadent in Italy than it is here in the States. Her caretaker Portia makes this simple pasta for her the night before it all goes down. If you can’t find good canned sardines, feel free to substitute anchovies or tuna.
The Pasta Betrayal
8 oz fettucini
4 oz can smoked sardines in olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, fronds attached
1 Tb fennel seeds
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
Put water on to boil for the pasta. While it heats, open the can of sardines. Drain the oil into a saucepan, than add more olive oil until the bottom of the pan is liberally covered. Add red pepper and fennel seeds, and heat over medium. While it warms, core and slice the fennel, fronds and all. Once the oil is hot, add the fennel. Stir frequently. Once it begins to look caramelized, add the garlic and sardines. Break them up as you stir. After about a minute, add the wine. At this point, your pasta should be about ready to cook. Turn the fennel mix down to the lowest heat while the fettucini cooks. When it’s ready, use tongs to add pasta to the saucepan and toss well. Add a splash or two of pasta water if needed.
Serve with the rest of the bottle of wine, crusty bread, and a salad.