Although Sardinia, an island southwest of Rome, is governed from the capital of Italy, in reality, it has its own turbulent history, colourful culture and interesting cuisine.
This large island was visited by eastern Mediterranean merchants well before Phoenicians who came in the 9th century BC. The Phoenicians were the merchants of antiquity who plied the Mediterranean Sea from Lebanon all the way to the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, and every conceivable port in between.
Carthaginians, always at war with the Roman army, came in the 12th century. Sardinians fought Carthaginians tooth and nail, but when they were expelled, Romans, Vandals Byzantines, Arabs, Genoese, Pisans and Catalans came in succession. Each left their culinary mark on the cuisine of Sardinia.
Sardinian cuisine is based on local ingredients: seafood, lamb, pork, olive oil, herbs, cereal, vegetables, fruits and cheese. Its flavour comes from fresh, ripe ingredients, and skill and love in their preparation.
Islanders have learned to be suspicious of all people who come from the mainland, any mainland. Today tourism thrives particularly with people who look for tranquillity, natural beauty, and friendly people. Sardinia does not enjoy the high traffic tourism of Sicily, or even Capri for that matter, but its unspoiled beaches are much appreciated by tourists who like to spend a few weeks of tranquil vacations or recuperate.
Sardinian cooks excel in seafood stews. After all, the waters around the island teem with a large variety of fish and crustaceans.
Couscous and grey mullet pressed salted roe, flatbread originate from Arabs. Lamb is used often. Pastureland in Sardinia happens to be at a premium, therefore sheep are more adapted to terrain interspersed with stones, rocks and grass. Fully one third of all sheep in Italy live in Sardinia. Roast suckling lamb (10 weeks old) and pork sausages are much favoured. Offal (variety meats) like lungs, kidney, and heart are stuffed into the cleaned intestines of the animal and cooked in sauces or grilles. Brains and the head are also cooked.
Pastas with tomato sauce enjoy an excellent reputation and popularity. Tomato sauce in Sardinia is a naturally dark red more flavourful than on the mainland mostly due to the strong sunshine and heat in the summer.
Sardinian bakers are famous for their skill in creating a range of breads (round leavened, baked, or flatbreads, semolina bread, coarse-textured pizza dough and cakes).
Nuts also figure largely in Sardinian recipes – a legacy of Arabs.
Family meals are extended affairs, planned carefully and well in advance. Everything is purchased fresh and all family members get involved.
First, a few little homemade berry-based drinks may be taken “to wet” the appetite. This is then followed by marinated or grilled seafood, or snails in season. Then comes pasta flavoured with thick tomato sauce, which in turn is followed by wild fennel infused roasted lamb. Everything is washed down with hearty Sardinian red wine generally made of the Cannonau a.k.a Garnacho or Grenache. In Spain and France, this red grape yields fine red wines; here it tends to be tannic requiring long ageing.
Garnacho originated in Spain, but southern French vignerons made it famous. Spaniards introduced the grape to Sardinia.
Today, many consider it the best red wine grape on the island. Sela e Mosca is the largest winery with a range of wines including Cannonau di Sardegna a D O C quality wine well worth looking for.
Fresh fruits follow the main course, which in turn is followed by the ubiquitous pecorino. This cheese on the island has a particularly deep flavour mainly due to the diet of the sheep. Some of the specialties of Sardinia are: roast baby lamb with wild fennel, rosemary flavoured baked flatbread, grilled mushrooms drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, gnocchi with tomato sauce, flat bread lasagna, fava bean and pork stew, grilled baby eels, and cookies.
As can be expected, butter and beer are rarely if ever used. Steaming, poaching or sautéing give way to roasting, baking, grilling and deep-frying.
Sardinian cuisine is every bit as ingenious as Sicilian cuisine and can only be enjoyed on the island. No one can duplicate it elsewhere because the ingredients will never be as fresh as in Sardinia.