by Maria Meyer
Sardinia: A Rare Natural and Historical Wonder
Referred to by natives as the “oldest land in Europe”, Sardinia’s profound natural beauty is matched only by its rich cultural history. This region is an island, which emerged millions of years ago as a result of volcanic activity, roughly the size of Sicily and located just west of the shin of The Boot. The natural purity of both the inland and the coastal region of this island are untouched by even the most stunning Caribbean beach or Colorado mountain lake, and the geography draws nature-loving visitors year after year.
The island’s position in the highly-trafficked Mediterranean Sea, as well as its equidistant proximity to Italy, Africa, Spain and France, has created a people who identify more as Sardinians than Italians, fiercely proud of their heritage, culture, and language. In fact, Sardinia has two official languages, the lingua sarda and Italian, but also has such distinct dialects that when spoken they are mutually unintelligible from one another (some examples of these the Catalan of Alghero, Tabarchino of the islands of Sulcris, the Sassarese dialect, and Gallurese). The oldest Sardinian civilization of which we know of today is the Nuragic people, who inhabited the island from the Bronze Age to the 2nd Century AD and whose characteristic ruins can be seen all over the island. Present-day Sardinians come from a long line of shepherds, due to the fact that in order to avoid constant invasions, the majority of the inhabitants retreated to the high inland plateaus, protected by the seaside mountains, and traces of the shepherding culture are still very prevalent in the current ways of life.
What to See There
Sardinia can be reached in a few ways: 1) taking a plane to Olbia, Alghero, or Cagliari; 2) via cruise ships, which often stop or Olbia or Cagliari; or 3) via your own private yacht, in which case you are probably headed to the chic Emerald Coast on the northern region of the island (that’s where the Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belford with his gajillion dollar yacht in the book and movie). No matter which category of travelers you are in, you will want to see Nuragic ruins and the gorgeous sparkling beaches of northern Sardinia. Cagliari boasts a wealth of archaeological sites, both ancient and “modern” day, and of course, you can’t forget the food and wine wherever it is you are staying. Sardinia also boasts super luxe hotels on the Emerald Coast and many opportunities for active tourism, such as hiking, kayaking, and horseback riding.
What to Eat There
The traditional Sardinian cuisine varies based on in which area you are having dinner, with coastal towns boasting more fish and inland cuisine centered on meat and dairy products. The seafood star is Sardinian bottarga, which is sprinkled on pastas, pizzas, and made to make the traditional carciofi spini con bottarga. In the meat department, sheep boiled with potatoes and root vegetables is a very traditional dish, but the one that consistently wows chefs and foodies everywhere is porcheddu, a slowly roasted pig whose taste has changed lives. Other specialties include gnocchi sardi, fregola, a cous-cous like pasta, every kind of sheep’s cheese imaginable, including fresh ricotta and Casu frazigu (which recently was of interest to Andrew Zimmern), and pane carasau, a flat, crispy bread that was originally made for the purpose of not spoiling when shepherds spent long periods of time in the mountains.
Bring Sardinia to your Kitchen table
Being a vegetarian, I was a little apprehensive about dipping into the traditional ingredients of Sardinia. A slow-roasted pig was not something I was willing to try. So when I saw Eataly’s selections of San Giuliano Toasted Fregola and Antonella Whole Peeled Tomatoes from Sardinia this month, my taste buds perked up and I sought out an interesting recipe that would accommodate both ingredients. I chose this one that satisfied my main objective when cooking – using minimal ingredients to achieve optimal flavors. The “toasted” flavor of the fregola really shined in conjunction with the tomatoes and in my use of both fresh and dried basil (since I had both on hand). As a bonus, it was a super-simple process (that would be my objective #2 when cooking) though fregola does take a bit more time to cook than your typical pasta variety. In about 25 minutes, the fregola had a nice al dente texture. Paired with a simple green salad and a glass of a crisp California Sauvignon Blanc, it was a delicious – and very easy – weeknight meal.