Italy’s best-kept secret has a few secrets of its own. The remote island of Sardinia, located west of the boot and roughly the size of Sicily, dazzles visitors with its sparkling turquoise-blue waters, labyrinths of grottoes, superior hiking, and ultimate relaxation a spots. It is considered a rural paradise south of the perfectly manicured emerald coast; a tribute to an uncontaminated natural setting inhabited by a simple population of shepherds. One of the few places where one can still feel connected to a land who age emanates the beloved traditions and wisdom of its people.
A highlight of these Sardinian traditions is its cuisine, a fascinating blend of historical influences and dishes rising out of necessity. From this land of humble shepherds come some of the best pecorino and ricotta cheese in the world, eaten alongside the popular dish sheep a cappottu (boiled and seasoned with potatoes, carrots, and onions). Even the bread caters to the life of shepherds – pane carasau is a flat, hard bread that would not go stale in the weeks that the men stayed out tending to their flocks.
Sardinia: Influential Elements
Former invasions of the strategically placed island have also left their mark on the cuisine. The Spaniards’ affinity for the pork and the pig translated to a myriad of pork based plates, the most known and celebrated being porcheddu, pieces of a whole pork roasted underground for an extended period of time before being chopped up and served with its crispy skin attached. (And it is as good as it sounds – seldom does one say the word “porcheddu” without making some sort of gesture indicating the unbelievable goodness of the dish.) But Sardinia is an island, and so although the majority of its cuisine is centered around the food possibilities inland, there are also dishes highlighting fish and the sea, such as bottarga or fregola sarda made al mare, or with fish.
The latter is, in fact, one of the most interesting dishes of the Sardinian cuisine, exhibiting distinct Arab influences. Made from semolina flour, the dish resembles a very rough couscous, with balls of pasta in all shapes and sizes cooked similarly to risotto and tossed with vegetables, meat, or mixed seafood. The resulting piatto unico (single dish that can act like a meal) is a meal bursting with the flavors and characteristic of Sardinia.
No plans to fly to the island soon? Not a problem for ambitious home cooks out there. Fregola is not hard to make at home, and requires only a bit of semolina and some water. You can find recipes to make the pasta from scratch online or buy the ready-made pasta in specialty stores or online.
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