Winner of the James Beard/ KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year 2000 and Winner of the Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food 2000.
 
 
April 24, 2014
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Mangia Bene

    Sardinia were virtually outside of the main flow of Mediterranean trade in the Middle Ages. The medieval Sardinian peasant never experimented with new crops, changed his methods, or increased production. He burned the narboni (stubble) and did not leave fields fallow. Even today, as one approaches the interior town of Sássari the burning stubble can be seen polluting the skies for miles.

    Sardinia was more pastoral than agricultural in the sixteenth century, and the use of money was largely unknown. The Jesuit fathers in Cágliari accepted gifts in kind: poultry, bread, kids, capons, suckling pigs, good wines, and calves. Sardinian bread was made of hard wheat, perhaps with a little barley. These are the only two cereals mentioned in Sardinian documents. Today there is a variety of traditional breads, some made with white flour, others semolina (hard wheat), breads with bran or sprouts, breads with bread crumbs, or as flat as a sheet of music, called literally carta di musica in Italian or pani carasau in Sardinian, or pani guttiau, a "sheet of music" bread rebaked with olive oil drippings. In Sárrabus, in the south, is a ritual bread made of acorns and clay, which they once ate. In Sardinian cities, public ovens were used to bake traditional dishes such as panade, a kind of rustic tort made of bread dough stuffed with small pieces of stewed lamb or eel seasoned with vegetables. Today panada is a popular dish in the area around the capital city of Cágliari and in particular in the village of Assémini.

    Sardinia was completely backward, yet a major exporter of cheese. Through Cágliari the island was in touch with the rest of the western world, sending its cavallo (probably a kind of caciocavallo) or salso (a salted sheep cheese like pecorino) cheese, going to Leghorn (Livorno), Genoa, Naples, Barcelona, and even Marseilles in spite of the competition of other cheeses from Milan and the Auvergne. Fresh white cheese was made for seasoning soups and minestrone; one such cheese, called casu e' filixu, was a fresh cheese layered with fern leaves in the center.

    Cheese is still used abundantly in Sardinian cuisine: in soups, in stews, in small ravioli, and in famous desserts such as sebádas, semolina, egg, and cheese fritters flavored with sugar, lemon, and honey or the pardule, baked buns of semolina stuffed with saffron- and orange zest-flavored fresh ricotta cheese.

    Typical Sardinian cooking makes use of all kinds of beans: fava, white beans, lupine (Lupinus albus), chickpeas, and lentils. Parsley, leeks, and especially lots of cabbage were grown and used in soups and minestrone. Onions, chicory, spinach, and beets were also commonplace on the late medieval Sardinian table. The most common fruit was citron. A favorite pasta was called fregula, probably inspired by the Arab couscous.

(Photo: uncooked fregula)