Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The coasts of Sardinia are generally high and rocky with long, relatively straight stretches of coastline that contain a few deep bays, many inlets and smaller islands off the coast. The Strait of Bonifacio is directly north of Sardinia and separates Sardinia from the French island of Corsica. The region’s capital is Cagliari.
The island has a Mediterranean climate along the coasts, plains and low hills and a continental climate on the interior plateaus, valleys and mountain ranges. During the year there are approximately 135 days of sunshine, with a major concentration of rainfall in the autumn and winter.
During the Second World War, Sardinia was an important air and naval base and was heavily bombed by the Allies. In the early 1960s, an industrialization effort was begun with the initiation of major infrastructure projects on the island. These included the construction of new dams and roads, reforestation, agricultural zones on reclaimed marshland and large industrial complexes (primarily oil refineries and related petrochemical operations). With the creation of these industries, thousands of ex-farmers became industrial workers.
The Sardinian economy is constrained due to the high cost of importing goods, transportation and generating electricity, which is twice that of the continental Italian regions and triple that of the EU average. The once prosperous mining industry is still active, though restricted to coal, gold, bauxite, lead and zinc. Granite extraction represents one of the most flourishing industries in the northern part of the island. Principal industries include chemicals, petrochemicals, metalworking, cement, pharmaceutical, shipbuilding, oil rig construction, rail and food.
Agriculture has played a very important role in the economic history of the island, especially in the great plain of Campidano, where it is particularly suitable for wheat farming. Water scarcity was a major problem that was overcome with the construction of a great barrier system of dams. Now, the Campidano plain is a major Italian producer of oats, barley and durum wheat. Sardinian agriculture is linked to specific products: cheese, wine, olive oil, artichokes and tomatoes that contribute to a growing export business. Sardinia produces about 80% of Italian cork and ranks 5th among the Italian regions in rice production. The main paddy fields are located in the Arborea Plain.
Sardinia is home to one of the oldest forms of vocal music, generally known as cantu a tenore. The guttural sounds produced in this form make a remarkable sound, similar to Tuvan throat singing. Sardinia is home to professional soccer and basketball teams and auto racing. Cagliari hosted a Formula 3000 race in 2002 and 2003 around its Sant’Elia stadium.
Sardinia boasts the highest consumption of beer per capita in Italy. The discovery of jars containing hops in some archaeological sites are evidence that beer was produced in the region since the Copper Age.
The Cuisine of Sardinia
Thousands of rare species of plants and animals grow and live on the island, some entirely unique to Sardinia. An excellent example of the longevity of Sardinia’s heirloom produce is the Grenache wine grape which dates back to about 1,200 BC. The Grenache grapes grown on the island today are genetically indistinguishable from their ancestors grown thousands of years ago in the same areas.
Wild boar, lamb, pork, eggplant, artichokes, tomatoes, lobsters, sea urchins, octopus, clams, mussels and squid are plentiful. Salty flavors are preferred by Sardinians, such as, bottarga (a pressed and salted mullet roe) and salt preserved sardines.
Traditional hearty Italian pastas like culingiones (spinach and cheese ravioli) share center stage with Arabic-inspired couscous dishes. Many first-time visitors are surprised by the Sardinians’ liberal use of saffron, which grows well on the island. Saffron is a particular favorite in gnocchi dishes.
A wide variety of herbs, including myrtle (berries, flowers, leaves and stems), flourish on Sardinia and flavor the local dishes. Whether savory, sweet, used for wood smoking or instilled into digestive liqueurs, myrtle is a major part of the Sardinian palate.
Cheeses are especially important and the island’s most exported food product. Pecorino sardo, Fiore sardo, ricotta, caprino, pecorino romano and the famous casu marzu are all made within the region. Casu marzu is illegal now in Italy due to its bizarre culturing and aging process involving the introduction of live cheese fly larvae into the process to bring about a poisonous stage akin to decomposition. Though obviously a risky gastronomic health adventure and definitely not for the timid, casu marzu is nonetheless a very popular black market commodity and is considered a distinctive delicacy by many locals.
For more traditional tastes, you will find local rock lobsters topped with seasoned breadcrumbs and roasted in the oven and cassòla, a flavorful seafood soup, that can have as many as a dozen types of seafood cooked with spices and tomatoes.
Fava beans are cooked with cardoons, wild fennel, tomatoes, salt pork and sausage to create the thick stew known as favata. Farro, a locally grown grain, is simmered slowly in beef broth with cheese and mint to make su farro.
Chickens are marinated with myrtle leaves and berries, boiled and eaten chilled. Other Sardinian recipes for meat are agnello con finocchietti, a stew of lamb with wild fennel, tomatoes and onion. Not people to waste food, Sardinians stew lamb or kid intestines with peas, onions and tomatoes.
Sardinians love pasta in all forms and their cuisine features specialties found nowhere else. Plump culingiones are shaped like ravioli and stuffed with chard and pecorino cheese and served with tomato sauce. The regional dish, malloreddus, are tiny semolina gnocchi topped with a garlic, basil, pecorino and saffron flavored sausage and tomato sauce.
Every village has a unique shaped bread, either a round loaf, a long cylindrical loaf or a donut shaped loaf. Sardinian recipes also include a sweet focaccia flavored with pecorino cheese and a local bitter honey. The entire island loves flatbread and crisp carta de musica or “sheet of music”, a paper-thin crisp bread. One popular way to serve this cracker style bread is to soften it in warm water, then spread it with tomato sauce, grated cheese and poached eggs.
Sardinian cooking also offers a wide selection of cookies, pastries and cakes. These desserts are usually flavored with spices, almonds, raisins and ricotta cheese. Pabassinas are pastries filled with a raisin walnut paste.
Mirto is a liqueur unique to the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. It is made from the berries of the flowering Mirto (or Myrtle) plant, a distinctive plant that grows throughout the Mediterranean basin but is most prolific on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. The berries are dark blue in color and look somewhat like blueberries but bear no relationship to blueberries in taste or other properties.
Sardinia’s wines have little in common with those produced in the rest of Italy. The Island’s remote Mediterranean location, as well as the historic influence from other cultures, gives the wines a unique character that might be considered to have more in common with Spanish wines rather than Italian wines. Production is extensive around the port of Cagliari in the Campidano area, where the little known Girò, Monica, Nasco and Nuragus varietals grow alongside Malvasia and Moscato, all bearing town names: Girò di Cagliari, Monica di Cagliari, Nasco di Cagliari, Nuragus di Cagliari, Malvasia di Cagliari and Moscato di Cagliari DOCs.
Traditionally, it is made with whatever is growing in the garden, but it always includes beans and fregula (or fregola) a toasted pebble-size semolina pasta that is popular in Sardinia.
- 1/2 cup dried peeled fava beans
- 1/2 cup dried cranberry beans or cannellini beans
- 1/3 cup dried chickpeas
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 2⁄3 cup)
- 2 medium celery stalks, chopped (about ½ cup)
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (about 3½ cups)
- 3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1½ cups)
- 1½ cups chopped fennel bulb
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
- 2⁄3 cup of Sardinian fregula, Israeli couscous, or acini di pepe pasta
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup finely grated pecorino Romano (about 2 ounces)
Soak the fava beans, cranberry beans and chickpeas in a large bowl of water for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain in a colander and rinse well.
Warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery; cook, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 20 seconds.
Stir in the tomatoes, potatoes, fennel, parsley and basil, as well as the drained beans and chickpeas. Add enough water (6 to 8 cups) so that everything is submerged by 1 inch.
Raise the heat to high and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer slowly, uncovered, until the beans are tender, adding more water as necessary if the mixture gets too thick, about 1½ hours.
Stir in the fregula, salt and pepper. Add up to 2 cups water if necessary. Continue simmering, uncovered, until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.
Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into each of four serving bowls. Divide the soup among them and top each with 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese.
Notes: You can vary the beans in the minestrone: pinto beans make a good substitute for cranberry beans; great northern or cannellini beans, for the favas. Use the stalks and fronds that come off a fennel bulb for the most intense flavor. Add other fresh vegetables from the garden or market, such as zucchini, cabbage, green beans, and cauliflower or broccoli florets.
Cavatelli with Sardinian Sausage Sauce
Cavatelli pasta is shaped like a small hot dog bun with a long, rolled edge that is good for holding thick sauces.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 28-ounce can)
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 2 large pinches saffron
- 1 pound fresh or frozen cavatelli pasta
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, plus more for serving
In a large deep frying pan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderate heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a fork, until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to moderately low and add the remaining oil to the pan. Stir in the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, mint, parsley, water, salt and 1 pinch of the saffron. Simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the cavatelli with the remaining pinch saffron until just done, 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the cavatelli and toss with the meat sauce, the basil, the reserved pasta water and the cheese. Serve with additional Pecorino Romano.
Sardinian Lamb Kabobs over Couscous
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
- 8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into small florets
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron
- 3/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, divided
- 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
- 1 3/4 cups canned chicken broth or homemade stock
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 1/2 cups couscous
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
In a small frying pan, toast the pine nuts over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Light an outdoor grill or heat the broiler.
In a glass dish or stainless steel pan, combine the lamb, 6 tablespoons of the oil, the thyme and 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice.
In a large frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add the cauliflower, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is golden, about 10 minutes. Add the saffron, 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, the tomatoes, broth and raisins.
Simmer until the cauliflower is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the couscous and parsley. Bring back to a simmer. Cover, remove from the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts and the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Put the lamb on skewers. Sprinkle the kabobs with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Grill or broil the kabobs, turning and basting with the marinade, until the lamb is cooked to your taste, 6 to 8 minutes for medium rare. Serve the skewers on the couscous.
“Torta de arrosu” Saffron rice cake
- 200 gr / 7 oz rice
- 150 gr/ 5 oz sugar
- 750 ml / 1 ½ pints of milk
- 1/2 oz butter
- 5 eggs, lightly beaten
- 100 gr/ 3 1/2 oz skinned almonds
- Grated rind of a lemon
- A pinch of saffron
- A pinch of salt
- Powdered sugar for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degree F (180 C). Grease a 9 inch (24 cm) cake pan.
Put the milk, butter, saffron, sugar, salt and lemon rind in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until all the milk has been absorbed. Let cool and then add the eggs and the almonds.
Spoon mixture into the prepared pan.
Bake in the preheated oven for one hour. Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
San Sperate has a very ancient history. Recent archaeological excavations have dated the first settlements to the Bronze Age. Following the period of Punic rule in Sardinia, the villages in the San Sperate basin came under Carthaginian rule and four cemeteries from this period have been found. Roman occupation in 238 BC can be documented and the parish church dates to the XVI century. This small village in Sardinia, not far from Cagliari, is known for the “Paese Museo” (Museum Village) and its artistic features. It is a village of murals with more than 300 large wall paintings. Painting the walls of its houses was begun by a local artist, Pinuccio Sciola. In 1968, in the wake of a youth protest movement, Sciola had the idea of turning the village into an open-air “museum village”. The idea was taken up by other artists such as Foiso Fois, Liliana Canu, Primo Pantoli, Giorgio Princivalle, Gaetano Brundu, Nando Pintus, Giovanni Thermes and Franco Putzolu. They came to San Sperate to add their own different styles and techniques. The result ranged from trompe l’oeil windows, balconies and lines of washing hung out to dry to historic scenes and copies of famous works of art.
Sciola is also Sardinia’s best known sculptor and there are examples of his work carved from the local stone. His stone sculptures are the living testimony of the art of San Sperate. Limestones and basalts are the materials mainly used by Sciola. He makes a “kind of wound” in each stone, so that the energy of the stone is taken out. His large sculptures resonate when rubbed by human hands or small rocks. However, you can’t image how amazing it is listening to Sciola’s stones, so instead of imagining, you can hear these stones in a documentary about this fascinating artist and his work by playing the video link below:
The murals depict how life was in San Sperate one hundred years ago. They are creations of a changing farming culture with themes of rural life (work in the fields and scenes from the village) in an urban space made more significant by the display of traditional implements, such as olive oil mills, wheat grinding mills, stone tubs, basins and by rows of orange and lemon trees. A Picasso-esque house wall of colorful images and a wall painted to resemble a space for hanging agricultural tools (painted so realistically with shadows that they look ready to be unhooked and used) are just two of the vivid images depicted in the town. There are also curiosities, like a house which appears to be wrapped in paper with a corner torn off or painted groups of people chatting in front of arcades or abstract patterns. Here are a few photos of the murals:
One artist from the Renaissance period, Piero della Francesca, must have been popular because there are several copies of his most famous paintings scattered throughout the village, including one next to a bakery that has an image of a single oven on its wall.
The murals covering the brick walls of the village houses brought this small village into the limelight, attracting Italian and foreign artists wishing to experiment with mural painting and other forms of art expression. This attraction also created a platform for local artists: in sculpture – Sergio Caddeo, Giuseppe Lasio, Gianfranco Pinna, Romano Porcu, Eva Schirru and Lucio Schirru; in painting – Monica Corda, Erminluca Maccioni and Raffaele Muscas; in miniature art – Ignazio Casti; in ceramics – Giampaolo Mameli; in murals – Angelo Pilloni and in street art – Manu Invisible. (Source: Italy Magazine)
Sardinian food ranges from soups and stews, seafood, freshly baked breads, olives and wine to roasted lamb, sheep’s milk cheeses and pastries.
Bean, Fennel and Potato Soup
- 2/3 pound (300 g) fresh fava beans or dried cannellini beans
- 2 fennel bulbs, fronds (feathery tops) only
- 1/2 pound (250 g) potatoes
- 1/2 pound (225 g) plum tomatoes or canned italian tomatoes
- 1/3 pound (150 g) dry short pasta (ditalini)
- A ham bone
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Freshly grated Pecorino Sardo (in its absence use Pecorino Toscano or a mixture of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano.)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the fennel fronds, pat them dry and chop them. Save the fennel bulbs for another recipe. Peel and dice the potatoes. Blanch, peel, seed, chop and drain the tomatoes.
Heat the oil in a soup pot, sauté the tomatoes for a minute and as soon as they begin to wilt add the beans, fennel, potatoes and ham. Add 2 1/2 quarts (2.5 l) of water, cover, and simmer for at least two hours.
Remove the ham bone and stir in the pasta. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked. Serve with grated pecorino on the side.
Sardinian Stuffed Leg of Lamb
- A boneless leg of lamb, weighing about 4 1/2 pounds (2 k)
- 3/4 pound (110 g) Italian mild sausage, casing removed and crumbled
- 3 eggs
- 1/3 cup (50 g) dry bread crumbs
- 1 2/3 pounds (750 g) plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped — canned tomatoes will also work
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- A large bunch parsley, minced
- A medium onion, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Butcher’s twine
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan or Dutch oven large enough to contain the leg of lamb and sauté the minced garlic, parsley and onion until the onion is translucent. Remove the mixture from the saucepan to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the pan drippings behind. When the onion mixture has cooled, mix it with the sausage, eggs and bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture over the inside of the leg of lamb. Roll the leg up tightly and tie it with twine.
Reheat the pan drippings in the saucepan and brown the meat, turning it to brown all sides. Add the tomatoes, crumbling them between your fingers, add enough water to reach part-way up the sides of the pot and simmer gently for an hour or until the meat is quite tender.
When the meat is done, remove it from the pot. Remove and discard the string, slice the meat and arrange the pieces on a warmed platter. Spoon the sauce over the meat and serve at once.
Saffron Ring Cake
- 12 ounces (300 g) ricotta
- 2 1/2 cups (300 g) flour
- 1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar, plus extra for the top of the cake
- 3 eggs
- The grated zest of an orange
- The grated zest of a lemon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- A big pinch of saffron
Preheat the oven to 380 degrees F (190 C).
Squeeze the orange, warm the juice slightly and dissolve the saffron in it.
Mash the ricotta with the tines of a fork, mixing until it is creamy in texture and combine it with the sugar, grated orange and lemon zest, eggs and half the orange juice mixed with saffron. Mix well, fold in the flour and baking powder and then pour the batter into a floured ring mold baking pan.
Brush the surface of the cake with the remaining orange juice, sprinkle with sugar and bake until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry, about 40 minutes, but check before then.
- Pinuccio Sciola, Sound Stones (murighingius.com)
- Italian food, wine and typical recipes: a brief introduction to the Sinis’ traditional cuisine. (tipstogo.wordpress.com)
While strolling through Citta’ Della Pieve, a northern Umbrian town during the Festa dello Zafferano held each fall, you will pass shops with baskets of lilac colored crocus petals and zafferano packets. During this festival, sprays of crocus flowers decorate textile shop windows, toy shop entrances and the Gelaterie which features ice-creams and yogurts made with saffron. In the Piazza Matteotti, a young chef teaches a cooking class with saffron starring in every dish: yellow risotto, saffron bread and a dessert. Just around the corner in the Palazzo della Corgna, you’ll find the embroidery work of the local women, including textiles of yellow hues, dyed with saffron. In the covered market area, you’ll see saffron-dyed candles and even creams and soaps made with saffron.
Saffron, the red-orange stigmas from the center of the fall flowering crocus plant (Crocus sativus), is the world’s most expensive spice. That’s because each flower provides only three stigmas. One ounce of saffron = approximately 14,000 of these tiny saffron threads. The tiny threads of saffron must be handpicked from the flower. The yellow stamens which have no taste are left behind. This spice comes either powdered or in threads.
The ancient Greeks and Romans prized saffron for its use as a perfume. They scattered it about public spaces such as royal halls, courts and amphitheaters. When Emperor Nero entered Rome, they spread saffron along the streets and wealthy Romans made daily use of saffron baths. They also used saffron as mascara, stirred saffron threads into their wines, strewn it in the halls and streets as a potpourri and offered it to their deities. Roman colonists took saffron with them when they settled in southern Gaul, where it was extensively cultivated until the AD 271. Saffron cultivation in Europe declined following the fall of the Roman Empire. For several centuries thereafter, saffron cultivation was rare or non-existent throughout Europe. This was reversed when the Moors came from North Africa to settle most of Spain, as well as parts of France and southern Italy. Two centuries after their conquest of Spain, the Moors planted saffron throughout the southern provinces of Andalucia, Castile, La Mancha and Valencia.
During the Renaissance, Venice stood out as the most important commercial center for saffron. In that period saffron was worth its weight in gold and, even today, it is still the most expensive spice in the world. Unfortunately, its high price led to its adulteration which, in those times, was severely punished. Henry VIII, who cherished the aroma of saffron, condemned adulterers to death.
Saffron grows on the Navelli Plain in the Province of L’Aquila and is considered by many to be a major product of the Italian Abruzzo region. How a flower of Middle Eastern origin found a home in Italy can be attributed to a priest by the name of Santucci, who introduced it to his native home over 450 years ago. Following his return from Spain at the height of the Inquisition, Santucci was convinced that the cultivation of saffron was possible in the plains of Abruzzo. Nevertheless, even today, the harvesting of saffron is difficult work and great skill is needed to handle the stems without damaging the product or allowing contamination from other parts of the plant.
Italian saffron is also produced on family owned farms in Sardara, a town located in the center of Sardinia, Italy. The production of saffron on the island of Sardinia and especially in Sardara has been a tradition for centuries with more than 60% of Italian saffron being produced in this region
An essential ingredient in Risotto Milanese, saffron is also used in many other dishes across Italy. For example, the fish soup found in Marche region, uses saffron for its red coloring in place of the more traditional tomato in the recipe. This coloring property is also widely appreciated in the production of cakes and liqueurs and, for centuries, by painters in the preparation of dyes. Its additional curative powers have long been believed to help digestion, rheumatism and colds.
American saffron or Mexican saffron is actually safflower, a member of the Daisy family and the same plant from which we get safflower oil. Although its dried, edible flowers do yield the characteristic yellow color, it has no flavor and is not suitable as a saffron substitute. Turmeric, also known as Indian saffron, is an honest substitute for saffron, but it is a member of the ginger family. Use turmeric sparingly as a saffron substitute, since its acrid flavor can easily overwhelm the food. Turmeric is also used to stretch powdered saffron by unscrupulous retailers. Unfortunately, there is no truly acceptable substitute for saffron. Its distinctive flavor is a must for classic dishes such as paella, bouillabaisse and risotto. If your recipe calls for saffron, do yourself a favor and use the real thing to fully appreciate the intended result.
Eggs Stuffed with Saffron
A classic Italian appetizer that is often served with olives.
- 6 hard boiled eggs
- ¼ cup bechamel sauce
- 18 strands of saffron
- ground saffron for garnish
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 cup milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- pinch of nutmeg
To make the sauce:
In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden color, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate saucepan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture, a little at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside until ready to use.
To make the stuffed eggs:
Peel the eggs, cut them in half and remove the yolks. Set the white halves aside on a serving platter.
Mash the yolks in a small bowl.
Add the saffron to the bechamel sauce and mix well. Add the mashed yolk and stir until the egg yolks are completely dissolved.
Fill eggs halves with a little of the sauce and garnish with ground saffron.
Italian Seafood Stew
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
- 1 cup no-salt-added diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup clam broth
- 4 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 6 ounces bay scallops or sea scallops quartered, tough muscle removed
- 6 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, fennel seed, salt, pepper and saffron; cook for 20 seconds.
Stir in tomatoes, clam broth and green beans. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes.
Increase heat to medium, stir in scallops and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes more.
Serve with crusty Italian bread.
Homemade Saffron-Flavored Pasta Dough
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1-1/2 tablespoons hot water
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lukewarm water
Put the crushed saffron threads in a cup. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons hot water and let stand 30 minutes.
Place the saffron water in a food processor with the 3 eggs and puree.
Add remaining ingredients and process until the dough forms a ball.
Cover kneaded dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least ½ hour.
Preparing the dough with a hand crank pasta machine: Divide dough into 3″ x 2″ pieces. Dust the dough lightly with flour on both sides. Start with the first thickness on the machine and gradually crank in steps to the desired thinness.
After the first pass through the machine, fold the dough in half to help develop the gluten. To make good straight edges, fold the ends of the pasta sheet to the center and then rotate it 90º so that the folded edges are on the sides. Place rolled pasta sheets on floured kitchen towels.
After all the pasta sheets are formed, cut the pasta into spaghetti or fettuccine on the pasta machine.
As soon as you cut the pasta, either place on a floured flat surface or hang on a pasta drying rack. Homemade pasta will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, or it can be air dried on your pasta rack and then stored in an airtight container. Fresh pasta can also be frozen in a vacuum bag. Do not keep dried fresh pasta unrefrigerated because it contains eggs in the mixture.
Cooking Hand Made Pasta: Drop the pasta into a large pot of salted boiling water and boil until tender or “al dente” for about two to three minutes. Do not over-cook the pasta. Drain well and serve with your favorite sauce. Saffron flavored pasta is especially good with butter and parmesan cheese. It also makes a delicious side dish to Chicken Marsala.
Chicken Breasts with Saffron Gravy
- 4 chicken breasts, (flattened with a meat pounder)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 shallots, sliced
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- Chives, chopped for garnish
Season chicken with salt, pepper and dredge in flour.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken and saute until lightly browned on both sides. Then transfer to another plate; cover with foil to keep warm.
Add butter to the same skillet and heat until its starts to sizzle. Add the shallots and saute for about 5 minutes..
Add the wine to the pan. After a minute, slowly whisk in the cream, blending completely. Add the saffron and simmer for a minute.
Add the chicken back into the pan, lower heat, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is done. Plate chicken, pour sauce over the top and garnish with chopped chives.
Gluten Free Orange Saffron Cake
- 2 whole sweet oranges with thin peels
- 6 large eggs
- 1 large pinch saffron strands
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/4 cups finely ground almonds (almond meal)
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped candied orange peel
Place the oranges in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours over medium heat. Check occasionally to make sure they stay covered with water. Allow the oranges to cool, then cut them open and remove as much white pith as possible and the seeds. Process in a blender or food processor into a coarse pulp.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (190 degrees C) Thoroughly grease a 10-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar together until thick and pale, at least 10 minutes. Mix in baking powder and saffron. Stir in the pureed oranges.
Gently fold in almond meal and candied orange peel; pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until a small knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Allow the cake to cool in the pan. Tap out onto a serving plate when cool.
- Saffron (onourweightohealth.wordpress.com)
- Cooking With Italian Spices – Fennel Seeds (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean, characterized by a jagged and rocky coastline, interspersed with stunning beaches of very fine sand. The past fifty years have seen Sardinia become a hotspot for tourism, with La Costa Smeralda in the northern area becoming a favorite retreat of Italian celebrities. The Sardinian coast may be dedicated to tourism, but the interior belongs to native Sardinians who still hold onto their customs, food and unique language (a form of classical Latin that is considered an official language). Sardinia is one of the most ancient lands in Europe, visited by man in the Palaeolithic period but inhabited permanently much later in the Neolithic age, around 6000 B.C. Around 1000 B.C. the Phoenicians began to land on the shores of Sardinia with increasing frequency. Sailing from Lebanon while on trade routes to as far away as Britain, they needed safe anchorage for the night or a retreat from storms. These safe ports of call later became important markets and, after a time, they developed into real towns inhabited by Phoenician families and Nuragic families. As time passed, the Sardinians became united in language and customs yet remained divided politically into various smaller tribal states. Sometimes they banded together, while at other times, they were at war with one another. Tribes lived in villages made up of round thatched stone huts.
In 509 B.C.the Phoenician expansion inland becoming ever more menacing and penetrating, so native Sardinians attacked the coastal cities held by the enemy who, in order to defend themselves, called upon Carthage for help. The Carthaginians, after a number of military campaigns, overcame the Sardinians and conquered the region. For 271 years, the Carthaginian civilization flourished alongside the local Nuragic culture. In 238 B.C. the Carthaginians, defeated by the Romans in the first Punic War, surrendered Sardinia and it became a province of Rome. The Roman domination in Sardinia lasted 694 long years and was often opposed by the Sardinians. The departure of the Romans and the ensuing chaos left Sardinia at the mercy of Vandal raiders, Byzantine occupiers and Arab corsairs. Four giudicati (kingdoms) emerged in the Middle Ages but, by the 13th century, the Pisans and Genoese were battling for control of Sardinia. They were eventually taken over in 1323 by the Catalano-Aragonese from northern Spain who stayed for some 50 years. Eleonora d’Arborea (1340–1404) battled against them heroically and remains revered as Sardinia’s very own “Joan of Arc”. Sardinia became a Spanish territory after the unification of the Spanish kingdoms in 1479 and, still today, there is a Hispanic feel to several towns in the region. In the ensuing centuries, Sardinia suffered as Spain’s power crumbled and, in 1720, the Italian Savoy kingdom took possession of the island. After Italian unity in 1861, Sardinia found itself again under the rule of Rome.
Places to Visit in Sardinia
Cagliari is the main harbor and one of the gateways to Sardinia. Cagliari is situated among salt marshes and fish-rich ponds at the center of the broad southern gulf that extends from Cape Spartivento to Cape Carbonara. The French author Auguste Bouillier, who visited it in 1864, wrote movingly of the view, with “cupolas glittering in the setting sun”, the “castle with its belt of grey walls” and the “spectral towers”. Dotted with Pisan towers and a Spanish castle, Cagliari has other Spanish touches, such as its flower-lined patios decorated with ceramics, not unlike Portugal’s famed azulejos. Travelers interested in Sardinia’s mysterious past should visit the Museo Nazionale Archeologico, which houses an unequaled collection of ancient Sardinian, Phoenician, Minoan and Roman artifacts.
La Costa Smeralda or “the Emerald Coast” is a new feature of Sardinia, created nearly forty years ago to transform a formerly wild and isolated coast into a world-class tourist destination. La Costa Smeralda occupies the northeast corner of Sardinia from Olbia to Santa Teresa Gallura and follows the dramatic coastline of inlets and gulfs. Besides the fashionable resorts with its trendy beaches and yachts, La Costa Smeralda also has unbelievable natural beauty, with some of the clearest waters in the entire Mediterranean. Away from the coast, the road travels into the ancient lands of the Nuraghi, with ruins of their distinctive structures as well as even older prehistoric dolmens known as the Tomb of the Giants.
Alghero was once a bastion of the Spanish Viceroy and even today is nicknamed “Barcelonetta” (little Barcelona) because of a dialect of Catalan that is still spoken. At the bottom of Via Umberto stands the sixteenth-century Cattedrale, where Spanish viceroys stopped to take a preliminary oath before taking office in Cagliari. A walk around the old town should take in the series of seven defensive towers which dominate Alghero’s center and its surrounding walls. Outside the old quarter, most of the tourist activity takes place around the port, its wide quay nudged by rows of colorful fishing boats and bordered by bars. Short trips outside Alghero lead to the impressive ruins of the Palmavera Nurag, as well, the excellent beaches at Porto Conte.
The Foods of Sardinia
Typical Sardinian cooking makes use of all kinds of beans: fava, white beans, lupine, chickpeas, and lentils. Parsley, leeks, and especially cabbage were grown and used in soups and minestrone. Onions, chicory, spinach, and beets were also commonplace on the Sardinian table. The most common fruit was citron. A pasta favorite is called fregola and was probably inspired by the Arab couscous.
Originally, Sardinian bread was made of hard wheat and barley. Today there are a variety of traditional breads, some made with white flour, others with semolina (hard wheat), breads with bran or sprouts or bread as flat as a sheet of music called Carta di Musica in Italian or Pani Carasau in Sardinian. In Sardinian cities, public ovens were used to bake traditional breads and dishes such as panade, a rustic torta, made of bread dough stuffed with small pieces of stewed lamb or eel seasoned with vegetables. Today, panade is still a popular dish. Sardinia is a major exporter of cheese and the main exports are cavallo cheese (a type of caciocavallo) and salso cheese (a salted sheep’s cheese like pecorino cheese). Locally, fresh white cheeses are made for seasoning soups and casu e’ filixu, another fresh cheese, is layered with fern leaves in the center and often served on Carta di Musica. Cheese is used abundantly in Sardinian cuisine: in soups, stews, small ravioli and in famous desserts, such as, sebádas, a semolina, egg and cheese fritter flavored with sugar, lemon and honey or the pardule, baked buns of semolina stuffed with saffron and orange zest flavored fresh ricotta cheese.
The traditional cuisine of Sardinia was in some ways a contradiction: an island civilization that did not utilize seafood in its diet. Since Sardinia’s coast has always been victim to invasion, the Sardinian people found refuge in the mountains. Therefore, the traditional foods of Sardinia were always more influenced by the land than the sea. Today, much has changed and now seafood has been embraced by Sardinians, no longer having to fear invaders or pirates. Spicy fish soups called Burrida and Cassola, along with lobsters, crabs, anchovies, squid, clams and fresh sardines with Sardinians. Favorite Sardinian pasta dishes include: Spaghetti con Bottarga made with dried gray mullet roe shaved on top, Malloreddus is a gnocchi style pasta flavored with saffron and served with a tomato sauce. Culingiones are round ravioli stuffed with spinach and cheese. The Sardinian interior produces some of the best lamb in all of Italy and it is known for being very lean. Sardinians enjoy their meats roasted and suckling pig or kidis a favorite roasted outdoors over aromatic woods. Abbamele is a honey-based product made in Sardinia. It is also sometimes called “abbattu”, “abazu” or “honey sapa”. Selected honeycombs are pressed to extract all honey and pollen which is then reduced in copper pots. The honey can be flavored with lemon or orange rinds. Abbamele is dark like molasses with a complex flavor that has hints of coffee and caramel. Abbamele is also similar to molasses in appearance but tastes like honey and is usually eaten with cheese and fresh fruit or even drizzled over pasta or vegetables. Sardinian wines have been influenced by the successive waves of invaders, with the Spanish leaving the most indelible mark. The full-bodied red Cannonau is the wine of choice when serving Sardinian lamb. Monica di Cagliari (DOC) can be found in dry well-aged varieties, as well as, a sweet dessert wine, known as, Liquoroso Dolce. Two well-known Sardinian white wines are Vernaccia di Oristano (DOC), a golden dry wine that is drunk with local fish and lobster and Vermentino di Gallura (DOCG), also good with seafood. Spirits include the aperitivo, Liquoroso Secco (made from the Monica grape) and the Myrtle flavored, Mirto. There are also various types of Grappa and Fil’e Ferru, a Sardinian Aquavitae, and other aperitifs with infusions of citrus fruits such as Limoncino and Arangiu.
Make Some Sardinian Inspired Recipes At Home
Pane Carasau or Carta da Musica is a Sardinian bread, shaped into thin disks and stacked up in piles. Dry and crisp, the name Carta da Musica (music paper) is attributed to the noise produced when they are chewed. It is said to have been first made by the shepherds in Sardinia, who took it with them into the pastures as it keeps well. Pane Carasau is sometimes bathed in a sauce before it is eaten, and is an excellent accompaniment to cheese or meats. A typical dish made with pane carasau is pane frattau which is prepared by layering pane carasau with sauce, tomato, cheese and topped with poached eggs.
Pane Carasau (Sardinian Flatbread)
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups semolina flour, fine grind
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of mixer and mix until it comes together and becomes elastic. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it a few times. Set it on the counter and cover it with the mixing bowl and let it rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and place a baking stone on the rack. If you don’t have a stone you can use several parchment lined sheet tray. After the dough has rested divide the dough into 7 pieces and roll them under the palm of your hand until the becomes smooth balls of dough. Sprinkle the counter lightly with flour and then dip one of the balls of dough into the flour and shake off the excess. Using the palm of your hand flatten the dough out and then start rolling it out. Turn it 180 degrees between each roll so it becomes a long oval. Roll it as thin as you can. Using a fork dock the dough. Gently lift the dough and place it onto the stone and bake it for 5 minutes flipping it after 2 1/2 minutes. While it is baking roll out the next flatbread. Remove from the oven and continue baking the remaining 5 flatbreads.
Tomato-Poached Eggs with Sardinian Music Bread
4 servings Ingredients:
Risotto-Style Fregula with Mushrooms, Abbamele and Goat Cheese
Fregula is a small, toasted semolina pasta. Israeli couscous is a more readily available stand-in; you can also substitute a dark-colored honey for abbamele. 6 servings Ingredients:
- 2 1/4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 ounces wild mushrooms
- 1/3 cup chopped shallots
- 1 1/4 cups uncooked fregula
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) goat cheese or feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon abbamele or honey, divided
- 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted
Directions: Combine broth and 1 cup water in a saucepan over medium heat; bring to a simmer. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms; cook 5 minutes or until moisture evaporates. Add shallots; cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add fregula and salt; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in wine; cook 30 seconds or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Set aside 1/4 cup broth mixture; cover and keep warm. Add remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 15 minutes total). Remove from heat. Stir in reserved 1/4 cup broth mixture, chives, goat cheese and 1 1/2 teaspoons abbamele. Sprinkle with walnuts. Drizzle each serving with 1/4 teaspoon abbamele. Serve immediately.
Makes about 1 pound These tiny Sardinian dumplings resemble cavatelli and are often called gnocchetti sardi. Malloreddus are usually served with butter and Pecorino cheese, a simple tomato sauce or a rich lamb ragù. Ingredients:
- Fine sea salt
- 1 1/4 cups semolina flour
- 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- a gnocchi board or table fork
Directions: Dissolve 1 teaspoon salt in 3/4 cup warm water. In a large bowl whisk together semolina and all-purpose flours; mound and form a well in the center. Add water mixture and 2 teaspoons oil to the well. Using your hand or a fork, slowly incorporate flour from inside rim of well. Continue until liquid is absorbed, then knead in the bowl until dough forms a ball (dough will be slightly sticky). Transfer dough to a well-floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes, dusting with a bit more flour as needed just to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. Break off about 1/8 of the pasta dough; tightly re-wrap the remaining dough. Roll dough into a 1/4-inch cylinder and cut it into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Pressing with your thumb, roll each piece on a gnocchi board or down the back of a fork to give it the characteristic ridges and put on a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. To cook the fresh malloreddus, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, about 6 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Drain, transfer to a large serving bowl and immediately toss with sauce and serve.
Sauces for Malloreddus
Servings 4 Ingredients:
- 1 lb malloreddus pasta
- 7 oz fresh tuna, cut into small cubes
- 4 oz onion, sliced thin
- 3 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 oz capers
- 3 ½ oz fresh tomatoes, chopped
- 1 oz fennel fronds
- 1/2 cup white wine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3/4 oz anchovies, chopped
- 1/2 cup fish stock, see post for recipe: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/01/10/hearty-healthy-winter-soups/
Directions: In a large pan heat oil and brown the onion and the tuna. Stirring constantly, add the capers. Pour the white wine over all and allow to evaporate. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the fish stock onto the tuna, add the fresh tomato and half the fennel fronds. Meanwhile, cook the “malloreddus” in salted water. Drain the “malloreddus” and put them into the pan containing the sauce and toss. Allow to cook for another minute with the remaining fennel and then sprinkle the chopped anchovies over the top. Arrange in a serving dish, decorating with small sprigs of fennel.
Lamb Chops and Ragù with Malloreddus
Serves: 4 – 6 Ingredients:
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 pound ground lamb
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
- 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 thyme sprigs, plus 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- 1 rosemary sprig, plus 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2 cups prepared tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- 8 lamb rib chops, about 1/2 inch thick
- 1 pound malloreddus pasta, gnochetti or cavatelli
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Sardo cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
Directions: In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the ground lamb, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring to break up the meat until browned, about 4 minutes. Add the shallots, thyme and rosemary sprigs, bay leaf and the chopped onion. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the shallots and onion are softened, about 4 minutes. Add the red wine and boil over high heat until reduced by three-quarters, about 4 minutes. Add the chicken stock and tomato sauce and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper. Discard the thyme, rosemary sprigs and the bay leaf and keep the sauce hot. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil until shimmering. Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper and pat the chopped thyme and rosemary onto the meat. Add the chops to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until well browned outside and medium-rare within, about 3 minutes per side. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the malloreddus pasta until al dente. Drain and return it to the pot. Add the lamb ragù and stir well. Add the pecorino cheese and stir again. Transfer the pasta to plates and top with the lamb chops. MAKE AHEAD The lamb ragù can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Rewarm before serving.
- Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique Sardinia (laavventura.wordpress.com)
- The road to heaven: The wheel way to enjoy Sardinia (mirror.co.uk)
- My Sardinian Life’s Top 12 Posts of 2012 (laavventura.wordpress.com)
- Tour sardinia 2012 (slideshare.net)
- Coppa Italia 2012-2013 Thread (bigsoccer.com)
- A Year in Review – Top 12 Photos of 2012 | Sardinia, Italy (laavventura.wordpress.com)