Sardines stuffed with parsley, garlic, hot chilli & pine nuts, wrapped in grape leaves

It has been more than a couple of months since I wanted to make this Greek-Italian food marriage: to combine a Greek and an Italian recipe for fresh sardines.  The Italian dish is called Sarde a beccafico, a true delicacy I ate once but that it needs some 12-15 ingredients (breadcrumbs, cheese, sultanas, pine nuts, several herbs etc etc etc ) to make it from scratch. Plus all the work to butterfly the sardines. I got tired by only reading the recipe.

The Greek cousin of “Stuffed sardines” was “wrapped in grape leaves” and the stuffing with dill and green onions reminded a lot of the traditional Greek dish of grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs.

In my head the Greek-Italian marriage should stuff the sardines with parsley, garlic, hot chili pepper and pine nuts and the folded fish should be wrapped in a grape leaf. Then baked in the oven. It sounds and it is easy – if it wasn’t for one problem “Who will remove the middle bones from the little fish?”

Fish sellers here do clear the fish, remove innards and heads but they do not remove the middle bone and scales. With 7 euro per kilo, the fish is too cheap to have a labor craft butterfly 28 silver sardines. HA!

August is the month of fresh sardines, and as some guests were to come for dinner, I took a walk to the fish seller. And there they were: dozens of silver sardines, fresh as fresh they could be , with bright eyes starring at me! I took the crucial decision: I’ll do it! And butterfly the sardines myself!

As I have real problem to touch raw fish I entered the kitchen armed with surgery gloves and a mask. I spent almost an hour to butterfly 28 sardines. Don’t ask me to explain how I did it!

sardines stuffed2

I found the butterflying process really tiring. And I was late. And my guests were on the way!

I used 20 sardines for the recipe and with the rest I threw a party for the feral cats in my neighborhood.

The filling is easy to make and the stuffing and rolling in grape leaves it’s done in 15-20 minutes. Arranged in a backing dish, sprinkled with salt and pepper and tossed with olive oil and lemon, they need no longer than 20 minutes in the oven.


The result was as just as I was dreaming it to be:  slightly salty and lemony wraps,  fresh and tender fish meat flavored with chopped parsley, garlic and pine nuts a and little spicy because of the chili pepper. Simply delicious !

sardines1 The appetizer can be served warm or cold and is an excellent company for ouzo, tsipouro, an icy cold Aquavit or vodka. If you have leftover,  cover it with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge to avoid the grape leaves turn dry.

The problem with preparing such a dish with surgery gloves and doing something that you have never done before is that the pictures are not very striking!


Sardines stuffed with parsley, hot chili & pine nuts, wrapped in grape leaves

  • Prep time:
  • Cook time:
  • Total time:
  • Yield: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Recipe type: appetizer


  • 20 whole fresh sardines (about 35gr each)
  • Sardines must be cleaned, no head & tail, butterflied
  • 2 cups fresh parsley
  • 2 small garlic cloves
  • 50 gr pine nuts roasted
  • 1 medium hot chili pepper – kernels removed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 20 grape leaves
  • 100ml olive oil
  • juice from 1 large or 2 small lemons


  1. Preheat over in 190 C/374 F
  2. Wash the sardines and pat them dry with paper towel.
  3. Spread them open on a surface, skin side down.
  4. Sprinkle them with salt and a little black pepper.
  5. In a food processor add parsley, garlic, pine nuts and chili pepper and process until filling is chopped.
  6. Put 1/2 teaspoon on each sardine and fold it.
  7. Press them slightly.
  8. Wrap each stuffed sardine in a grape leaf.
  9. Place the stuffed grape leaf on a baking dish or tray.
  10. The closing edge of the grape leaf must be down.
  11. Continue till all sardines and grape leaves are used.
  12. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice.
  13. Bake for 25 minutes in 190 C / 374 F
  14. Server lukewarm or cold

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