REGION OF SARDINIA
Sardinia has always had a strategic position and has been historically connected with Spain, especially along the western coasts. It enjoys a wide autonomy within the Italian state. Inhabited since very early pre-historic times (at least since 150,000 years ago), in the 9th century BC the island was occupied by the Phoenicians, later on by Carthage and, after this city was defeated and destroyed in the Third Punic War, by Rome, and under the Roman Empire enjoyed a remarkable prosperity. Life in Sardinia is maybe the best a man can hope for: twenty-four thousand miles of forests, of countryside, of coasts surrounded by a miraculous sea should coincide with what I would recommend the good God to give us as paradise. Sardinia is well-known as a paradise in the heart of the Mediterranean. Obviously, its sunny coasts and its white and sandy beaches are the main tourist attractions, but there is an endless list of places and facets to discover in Sardinia!
Most regions in the Italian mainland favor their own particular type of pasta, and Sardinia is no different. The North African influence is obvious in fregula— it’s like a large-grained couscous and is made from coarsely ground semolina. You find it in soups but it can also serve as a base for conventional pasta sauces. Without doubt, though, it’s best when it’s cooked in a seafood broth with fresh clams and mussels! Malloreddus is a small, oblong, grooved Sardinian pasta similar to gnocchi and is also known as gnocchetti sardi, again made of semolina flour with a pinch of saffron. Typically, it is prepared with a tomato and sausage sauce, topped with grated aged pecorino. Another variation is with cherry tomatoes, salted fresh ricotta and flat-leaf parsley. There are about 400 types of Sardinian breads, coming from different regions, although I only got to try a couple. The most typical is pane carasau, which is a circular, thin, crisp flatbread. Apparently designed for shepherds to take with them when they tended their flocks, it can last for a year and is often served just with extra-virgin olive oil and salt. It becomes pane frattauwhen it’s soaked in lamb stock and spread with tomato paste and grated pecorino cheese before being topped with a semi-coddled egg and rolled into a thin cigar. Some would say that the culmination of traditional Sardinian cuisine is the famous porceddu — suckling pig wrapped in myrtle and bay leaves and spit-roasted for several hours in front of an open fire made from aromatic woods, like juniper or olive. Cheeses are the island’s major export, made from both goat and sheep, and they include capra sarda, fiore sardo DOP, pecorino romano DOP, briganteand the now-banned casu marzu, probably smuggled out in Italian suitcases. I particularly like the various types of ricotta, which are either served completely fresh — ricotta fresca — or left to mature for 20 days and then known as ricotta stagionata. It’s particularly good with pasta, or you can just eat it on its own.
Cannonau makes up almost 30 per cent of Sardinia’s vineyard area with the majority grown on the hilly eastern side of the island but this is not a place of vast vineyards stretching over the horizon. Most grapes are cultivated by families who have a few hectares of vines as well as sheep, olives and other crops. Many send their grapes to be made into wine at the local co-operatives known as Cantina Sociale, but recently things have started to change. There is more focus on individual winemakers, smaller, well-equipped wineries and a definite drive to produce quality wines. At Viticoltori Della Romangia there are just 10 members with 58 hectares between them. By concentrating on quality, and avoiding oak, they are making wines that demonstrate Cannona’s vibrant red fruits, with touches of liquorice, spice and a structured yet soft finish. It is wines like this that go so well with the local food, roast lamb, barbecued sausages and pecorino cheese.
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Marco & team