To many people Sardinia is still somewhat of a mystery. Tourists tend to stick to the islands coastline and very rarely venture far in land, so many people never get a true experience of Sardinian cuisine. The true food of sardinia is found in places where tourists rarely see, with the shepherds, who spend their summer in the mountains away from their family, fending off the land before returning to their villages with their flocks in the winter. The shepherds live for up to seven months with no shops, markets, kitchens or freezers, just roasting suckling pig, lamb, goat and mutton over an open fire with nothing more than herbs and their beloved myrtle leaves. Some adventurous shepherds will hunt for themselves and add rabbit, hare, partridge, pigeon and so on to their wild larder.
Sardinia has many famous historical dishes, alas rarely cooked nowadays. One of these historical dishes is the holiday roast Carraxiu-style, a speciallity meat dish eaten on feast days around the Villagrande in Nuoro. According to legend the dish was made as follows; you take a bull and you stuff it with a kid (goat), then you stuff the goat with a piglet, then you stuff the piglet with a hare, then you stuff the hare with a partridge, then you stuff the partridge with a little bird. Once all the appropriate animals were stuffed inside each other the town cobbler would sew up the tough hide of the bull with strong wax twine then only the most skillful cooks were allowed to roast it. Nowadays Sardinians prefer their roasts a little less elaborate, but only a little. Pastu mitsu, a turkey, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with a hare then stuffed with a pigeon are made regularly on feast days in Sardinian homes.
Sardinia was cut, well culturally anyway, from Italy for some fifteen hundred years, from around 1800 B.C. to 300 B.C. , as the island was inhabited by an ancient warrior nation who resisted invaders and, unlike the rest of Italy, were rarely invaded or conquered. Little is known of these ancient Sardinian settlers other than they were rarely defeated in battle. Eventually they were conquered, by the Romans around the third century B.C., and Sardinia began to develop into what it is today. Even today Sardinia seems a little detached from the rest of Italy and not just geographically. Even the Sardinian dialect is considered difficult to understand by the rest of Italy, many Sardinians are quite brusque, which many other Italians find hard to understand. Much of the Sardinian dialect is taken directly from the latin and as a result often sounds quite primitive compared to modern day Italian.
Despite being an island nation, Sardinians are very cautious of the sea. Historically , threats to the Sardinian way of life have always come from the sea, invaders and conquerors always threatened from the sea and as a result, even today in times of peace, they avoid the sea. This can also be seen in the islands cuisine, with the exception of their love of lobster, Sardinians rarely eat fish or seafood. Essential to the Sardinian way of life, however, is carasau bread, also known as carta da musica, which is excellent for travellers and shepherds as it takes little preparation. Flour is mixed with yeast and salt and the dough rises slowly, then baked in the oven. Once taken out the puffed out dough "pillows" are cooled slightly then cut horizontally into two wafer thing discs, which are then baked in the oven again till crisp.
Pasta in Sardinia is quite unusual compared to the rest of Italy as its very labourious to prepare, the shepherds wives used to busy themselves making dried pasta ready for their husbands return in the winter. Many Sardinian pasta shapes are very complex to make, such as filindeu (Gods threads), very fine spaghetti which is hand cut and braided, one by one to form bows. Even Sardinia's signature pasta is still quite laborious to make, malloreddus, which can be made either with normal pasta dough or saffron pasta dough, which is then rolled on a ridged wooden board to give the shape it's curvature and ridges. Malloreddus easily soaks up and holds sauces and grated cheeses well.
Another Sardinian delicacy is bottarga, mullet roe, which is pressed into large bricks of three to four kilos, then salted and dried. Bottarga is made in the port of Cabras, on the western coast, but it's popularity is spread throughout the island, even as far as the shepherds in the mountains who eat it grated over pasta. Around eighty percent of Italy's total bottarga production comes from Cabras. However some Sardinian delicacies are so decadent the Italian government thought it was their duty to protect their consumers from them, but to this day without success and as we all know forbidden fruit always tastes better. This was the case with Casu Marzu, otherwise known as Frazzigu, Becciu, Fattittu or, the more descriptive name, Gompagadu (jumping cheese). Casu Marzu is not allowed to be sold, producers only make it for their personal consumption, well as far as the laws concerned anyway. Local pecorino is stored and fermented, well more like decomposed. Larvae are introduced into the centre of the cheese and then they eat and regurgitate it till the cheese becomes soft and almost liquid. A widespread saying goes that first you smell the cheese, then you hear it (when Casu Marzu is at the height of its fermentation the larvae activity inside is so intense the cheese actually jumps and thuds on the table), and only after this do you taste it. If after this you haven't lost the urge to go out and try some Casu Marzu best take your wallet, a small-sized one will cost you around 150 Euros at auction if you can find one, they tend to be be quite cloak and dagger affairs as Casu Marsu's sale is still illegal.
Although a Sardinians heart is truly devoted to the land, he often works at sea. The hungry Sardinian fishermen enjoy large grey mullet cooked on grills fresh on board as opposed to the islanders traditional favourites stewed or marinated. But a firm favourite all across Sardinia, both on the land and at sea, are the lobsters that breed in abundance off the coast, between Capo Caccia and Alghero and Boa. The lobsters, which are so large Sardinians call them elephantine (baby elephants), even up until very recently were so cheap many Sardinians became sick of eating them opting to each vegetables and potatoes on holidays and feast days instead. Today most Sardinians rarely eat lobster, but many catch and sell them making a very healthy living.
A little less praised than Sardinia's lobsters are Sardinia's octopus. Octopus have been considered the most intelligent of all the sea creatures, the ancient Greeks referred to them as "the Aristotle of the sea". Despite this high regard for their intellect many Italians eat octopus quite often and their capture and eventual demise is far from respectful. Octopus are either caught in traps and then bashed against the rocks until they lose consciousness and go completely limp. The ancient Greeks recommended bashing them against the rock one hundred times. But sometimes the octopus gets its revenge. Many octopus fisherman have been unfortunate enough to suffer an octopus bite, which can be particularly painful. Some octopus fisherman have developed a more compassionate method of dispatching their prey, by severing the nerve centre located in the octopus's neck, often by biting it quickly which renders the octopus unconscious.
In the Catalan part of Sicily, another great delicacy is used for stews, ragu's and salamis, donkey meat. Donkey as a rule is eaten on all of Italy's islands where the absence of roads mean that donkeys were, and in some places still are, used as a method of transportation, especially in mountainous regions. Once the donkeys become worn out and their performance is no longer effective, the time has come to turn it into a meal. Donkey meat, as one would expect, is particularly chewy and is best cooked long and slow, preferably stewed for around seven hours. Donkey is also eaten on mainland Italy, where it is prepared in many different. In Castelvetro, in Piedmont, they prepare donkey salamis, which are so loved the town holds a donkey salami festival every autumn and around Mantua, in central Italy, they use donkey meat for ragu's which are served with the local pasta.But a Sardinians heart will always be with his sheep, both for the meat they provide and their contribution to one of Sardinia's most loved products, Pecorino cheese, which appears on almost every Sardinian dinning table almost everyday, as well as on nearly every supermarket shelf in Europe. Sheep have contributed to the Sardinian way of life for thousands of years.
The Wines Of Sardinia
Sardinia is situated just a little over 125 miles from the Italian mainland, along the same latitude as Campania and Basilicata. Sardinia itself has one of the oldest wine industries in all of Italy. In the course of Sardinia's history, it has been occupied Blythe Byzantines, Arabs and Catalans, whose Spanish influence, especially on the wine industry, can still be seen throughout the island, even today. The most important grape varieties in Sardinia, such as Cannonau and Carignano, are historically native to Spain and the Iberian peninsula (click here for more information on The Wines Of Sardinia ).
Typical Dishes Of Sardinia
Agliata - Garlic sauce used to coat cold meats or use as a dip with vegetables.
Burrida - Dogfish boiled with pine nuts, walnuts, capers, vinegar, flour and breadcrumbs.
Culingionis - Pasta filled with a stuffing of potato and mint.
Fratau - A bread soup made from pane carasau (music paper bread) softened in water and topped with grated Pecorino, tomato sauce and a raw egg.
Fregola - Semolina balls, slightly larger than couscous, which is made by adding saffron and egg.
Leputrida - Stew made from pigs feet, mutton, salt pork and vegetables.