Sardinia – Sardegna

The Land and the People

 

Sardinia, the second largest island and one of the oldest lands in the Mediterranean Sea, was inhabited at least 150.000 years ago and in more recent times, in the Bronze Age, it is believed that settlements were established in the island by people coming from Eastern Asia, specifically Anatolia, and from the Western Mediterranean region.

There are speculations assuming that the people coming from the Western Mediterranean region sparsely colonized also Sicily and part of Italy. In the late Bronze Age when famine affected the Western Mediterranean region, it forced those people to emigrate in large number and entire tribes set up outpost and populated Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, and parts of the Italian peninsula.

It is presumed that a tribe called Shekelesh occupied the island they called Sicily, the Tursci moved into the land later named Tuscia or Etrusca corresponding to about the modern Tuscany and the Sherden, the Sea People, colonized Sardinia.

The Sherdens, later morphed into Sardens and Sardinians, did not live in the costal area because it was polluted by fumes believed to be poisonous, and preferred the countryside rich of games, wild fruits, and fresh water. Actually the fumes were created in the innumerable shallow lagoons that surrounded the Island’s shores, where algae and dead animals or fish would rotten causing a strong rancid stink; this situation was corrected last century in the early thirties by reclaiming the land in the effected areas .

The nuraghes (in Italian  nuraghe is the singular and nuraghi  the plural) were built between  the 18th century BC. and the 15th century BC.  The nuraghes were towers erected to mark the tribe’s boundary or city walls to protect them from enemies and wild animals and included entire villages, with dwellings, storehouses for provisions, water reserves or as temples for religious rites.

The nuraghes were singular constructions built using big and heavy stones weighting several tons, without foundations and without the use of mortar. Circa 8000 nuraghes are found all over the island and mostly around Sassari and in the central-south area.

Pre-historic megalithic tombs or monuments, the dolmens are found in all parts of the island and recently the Sa Covecca Dolmen, one of the largest, is undergoing restoration.

The high and rocky coast is interrupted by some beautiful beaches with transparent, blue and clean water: the small island surrounding Sardinia offer to the residents and visitors a luxurious life-style amidst a natural and gorgeous environment.

The interior terrain is in part hilly forests, with large areas of open land, used for grazing and between elevations a flat and fertile land is utilized for farming.

For its geographical position and for the mineral resources Sardinia was sough-after by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, the Republics of Pisa and Genoa, the Aragon, to the dukes of Savoia and in 1861, when the house of Savoia took the reigning of Italy, Sardinia became an Italian region. A note about the Savoia: in order to combat the local criminality, in 1820 they ordered a brutal deforesting, to deprive hideouts to the bandits infesting the island.

 

 

The Region 

 

The autonomous region of Sardinia is ruled by special laws that guarantee to the region judicial, economic and cultural independence to preserve their traditions, folklore, their form of government and the administration of the law.

The region’s 1.7 millions inhabitants are divided into eight provinces: Cagliari, Sassari, Nuoro, Oristano, Carbonia Iglesia, Medio Campidano, Ogliastra and Olbia Tempio; the last four provinces were established in 2005.

 

 

The region’s capital Cagliari has 160.000 inhabitants, Sassari, the second largest city has 137.000 inhabitants. The rest of the population living in this large island of circa 9.300 square miles, are scattered in the hinterland or in small towns far away from each other. The Sardinians preferred to live far away from the coast for fear of attacks from the sea, and preferred to live away from the people that invaded the island, by isolating themselves in the hills and hiding in the numerous forests.

 

Cagliari and Alghero, settlements built by the Phoenician, are the only cities on the shoreline.

For millennia, the grassy land in the highland, ideal for grazing, has supported the breeding of sheep and goats for their milk, meat, wool and leather. Shepherds live in the mountains and in complete isolation for months going from palace to place in search of new forage.

In the interior plateaus, where agriculture is practiced, the traditional method to work the land has changed very little as farmers have a religious attachment to the past and to traditions.

The geographical characteristic of the island and the life style of the Sardinians have marked these  people with a distinctive and quiet temperament, with pride in their individuality; Sardinians are proud but not arrogant, as it could appear on the first approach, when you know them better their feeling of hospitality, sincerity and courtesy becomes evident and appreciated.

The various dominations have left in the costal areas a large artistic and cultural patrimony.

Genoas dialect in spoken in some areas, and in Alghero, since the invasion in the year 1353 by Pietro IV of Aragon, a Spanish-Catalan dialect is spoken by the older inhabitants, also a Catalan characteristic is noted in the churches, buildings, streets and fountains built in Spanish style.

Cagliari is called “the greenest Italian city” for the many parks, and for the non existent smog; also there are olive trees surrounding the city that were planted to replace the oak trees deforested in 1820. In this city resides the respectable University of Cagliari, established in 1606, with over 36.000 students.

 

Cagliari has a long history of foreign dominations and each of them left infrastructures, temples, and other evidences of their passage; the traditions, folklore and culture has reminiscences of the people that governed this city. At the present there are ambitious plans to modernize the city without destroying its archeological and cultural patrimony.

Among the many famous Sardinians, to mention a few: in politic Segni and Cossiga, presidents of the Italian Republic, Palmiro Togliatti, the Berlinguers, Parisi, Mario Segni; and Italo Calvino, writer, Grazia Deledda , Nobel Price for literature, also Daniel Bovet, Nobel Price in biochemistry and many outstanding jurists, historians and brilliant personalities in all fields.

 

The Economy

 

Sardinia’s basic economy is the rearing of goats and sheep: the largest concentration in Europe. Cheeses, olive oil, wine, saffron and myrtle are exported to the main land and in the world.

The tuna fish caught is part canned and part is exported fresh to Japan.

Coal, zinc, lead, cadmium, argentiferous galena, bauxite, and other mineral are mined in limited quantities, cork is produced in large amounts, the granite mining is flourishing, small factories, large multinationals, petroleum and chemical plants are present all over Sardinia.

Tourism is taking an important part of the economical development of the island.

Since the valorization of the Sardinian coastline, tourism is having a boom above any expectation and has brought beneficial economic consequences to the whole region. The invaders from the sea that the Sardinians feared so much now are gladly welcome and assisted with modern and comfortable hotels and up to date facilities.

Tourism is concentrated in the coastal areas , but the economic benefits reach people in a chain from services (painters, plumbers, waiters, cooks, chambermaids, etc.) to purveyors, musicians, entertainer, transportation, shops in tourist towns, to name some people and industries affected by this commerce.

 

The crystalline water, the unspoiled nature, the pleasant climate has made Sardinia a preferred destination for the Italian and foreign tourist. The magnificent thousand miles of beautiful beaches, the fine sand, the blue sea, the excellent restaurants and the facilities tailored to the travelers and his family needs, make all tourist faithful patrons that surely will return on their future vacations!

The most famous and preferred beaches, Costa Esmeralda, from Olbia to Saint Teresa Gallura, or Golfo Orosei, Villa Simius,  Stintino, Costa Rei, the Maddalena and Caprera island, the other small islands surrounding Sardinia and the many seaside resorts, are favored  places, each with their own charm.

 

The Folklore

 

In May, the Cavalcata Sarda is celebrated in Sassari with singing and dancing in folkloristic costumes, with a horse show and equestrians showing their riding acrobatic abilities.

Also very interesting is the Mamuthones, an ancient carnival celebrated in Nuoro with traditional masks and bells of various sounds. In Teulada (Cagliari) Saint Isidoro, the Patron of the farmers is honored with formal religious rituals and a folkloristic festival with music and dances.

In Sedilo (Oristano) a horse show and race representing the struggle between good and evil, is called Ardia (Guardia) in honor of Saint Constantine.

Sardenian Cooking

 

The people and their history, the traditions and folklore, the economy and Sardinia’s geographical features have created an unmatched food culture different, simple, genuine and at times positively archaic.

The staple food in Sardinia is bread, game and meat as it was in pre-historic times.

The bread is traditionally made with wheat from the family countryside, game is abundant and available at no cost and a meat, which is available, and less expensive than other food, because the amount of meat available from the large numbers animal slaughtered, find no market in the mainland being too far away.

The Bread

The bread in Sardinia is made using wheat and/or barley or semolina, the most common leavening agent is fermented dough.

Pane fratau is similar to flatbread; it can be stuffed with meat, vegetables or leftover and carried to work very conveniently. If split in half, each half baked again, it becomes pan carasau

The pane carasau or carta di musica, is a paper thin, very dry flatbread that when broken makes a sound, hence the name paper music bread. Pane carasau can be carried by the shepherds for many days, and ready to provide a quick and nutritious meal by covering it with fresh ricotta, or cheese, tomato, or to eat it with game cooked in the pit.

Ciabatta bread is made with over leavened bread dough; it is soft, with a leathery crust and a floury, pleasant aroma. This bread is made all over Italy, for unknown reasons, the taste of Sardinian ciabatta is different: it is intricate, sour-sweet and sharp.

Other types and styles of bread are made by individual bakeries all over the island.

The Pasta

Among the first courses the Maccarrones de busas, small dumpling made of semolina flour, shaped around a knitting needle and served with tomato, mushroom or ricotta sauce.

The characteristic Culurgiones are oblong semolina ravioli filled with potato, pecorino Sardo cheese or with spinach and pecorino, aromatized with garlic and mint. Su Succu is a dry…soup: a broth is made with chicken, lamb and beef and set on the side, taglioline (noodles) are prepared by chopping the boiled meats used for the broth and adding flour, eggs, fresh pecorino- similar to feta cheese- grated pecorino, saffron and broth to mix the ingredients. Boil some broth with plenty of saffron, add the taglioline, fresh pecorino cheese and cook at a high heat for one or two minutes. Garnish with more saffron diluted in little broth and grated pecorino cheese; it is a dry… soup and should be eaten with a fork.

Mallureddus are semolina dumplings served with sausages, tomato sauce and pecorino cheese.

Other homemade pasta is made with semolina flour and water.

The Main Dishes

 

For second courses, many typical specialties are roasted on a pit like the cooking of a long list of wild game; although beef, pork, veal lamb, sheep and chickens sometimes are prepared sautéed, baked or boiled with the preferred aromatic myrtle, the cool tasting mint and the pungent and honey smelling saffron.

Coietas are involtini, a thin slice of rolled lamb stuffed with lard, garlic and parsley, sautéed in extra virgin olive oil and finished adding beef broth. Cinghiale, wild boar is stewed with myrtle berries served with potatoes and wild fennels.

Purceddu, suckling pig is spit-roasted and covered with myrtle leaves for few minutes to suck up the flavor and stay warm or prepared a la carrarglu, -meat in a hole- a Sardinian classic way to cook porchetta by digging a hole in the ground, lining it with myrtle leaves and stones, then laying the pig on them and covering with some more leaves and stones. After the hole is covered with earth, a fire is started on top for many hours to slowly cook the purceddu underground, until it is done. Sheep are cooked using the same system.

Spiedino is similar to the Sicilian stigghiola. It consists of interiors of lamb, suckling pig or veal roasted in burning myrtle’s berry and leaves.

The interiors of the animals are utilized and cooked in many different ways; the blood is used for stuffing, to make blood sausages and for delicious desserts: because we may not be used to eating these specialties, we may think about with aversion when in fact for the connoisseurs they are rare delicacies.

Kid and lamb are baked covered with wild fennels, onions and egg-lemon sauce.

Chickens are boiled, kept for the next day, covered with myrtle leaves to absorb their fragrance. Chickens are also baked after being stuffed with blood, bread and myrtle berries.

Fish is not very popular with the Sardinians, although it is tasty and plentiful. Red tuna and sword fish are served broiled drizzled with lemon juice and local olive oil.

Muggine or cefalo, the grey mullet is baked with potatoes, garlic, parsley, oil and scented with Vernaccia wine. The surra, made with the eggs of tuna fish and grey mullets preserved in salt, is served as an appetizer or to make a sauce for pasta. Heels are cooked on the spit, aragoste from the sea near Alghero are broiled, stuffed or simply boiled and served with a butter-lemon sauce.  

Cassula is a soup made with fish, mollusk and crustaceous in a spice sauce.

Polpo, octopus is boiled and served in salads.

Clams, mussels and crabs are stuffed, baked or cooked in sauce; snails are sautéed and dressed with parsley.  

Cauliflowers, peas, cabbage fennels, potatoes, chick peas, string beans, tomatoes, eggplants and green for salad are grown in season, in the family vegetable garden. Olives are abundant and processed as table olives and for the production of olive oil. Among the varieties of olives cultivated in Sardinia, the Tonda di Cagliari, Nera di Gonnos, Bosana, and the much diffused Pizz’e Carroga: the olive oil produced is of the finest quality.

Fruits are abundant: grapes, figs, prickly pears, apples pears, melons, sweet or sour cherries, watermelons, citrus fruit and chestnuts, almonds and walnuts.

The Cheeses

A very important part in the economy of the island is the making of cheeses, exported all over the world. Freshly made- Pecorino Sardo a base morbida can be used as a table cheese, it has a fresh and light taste that reflect the smell and fragrance typical of the local milk; the aged cheese six months or more old, Pecorino Sardo a base dura can be used as a table cheese or grated, it has an intense taste that is addictive and a fragrance that changes in intensity with an acuity of salty and sweet.

Fiore Sardo – Sardinian flower has been made since prehistoric times; in the far away grazing grounds, the shepherds produce it to utilize the sheep’s milk that otherwise would spoil. It is uncooked cheese, curdled using kid or lamb rennet. Aged up to three months is an excellent table cheese, after six months becomes sharp, it hardens and is good for grating.

Pecorino Dolce Sardo is a sweet and pleasant sheep table cheese with a delicate fragrance, to be consumed young; when it ages it acquires a strong flavor to become a fine grating cheese.

Fetta cheese is similar to feta, caciocavallo cheeses are produced in some areas; almost each neighborhood clams some original and different cheese.

The casizolu is the classic farmhouse cheese produced with cow milk. it can be consumed as a table cheese or used in cooking or stuffing. Goes well with white wines or with young light reds: It is pear shaped, ready to eat in ten days: with the sweet taste of milk when young, as it ages changing into a strong and pungent taste.

Fresh goat ricotta is consumed locally and in the Italian peninsula, also by adding sugar to fresh ricotta makes it possible to pack and export it as far as the United States where it is used for baking. Another specialty, the ricotta affumicata – is smoked by burning wood and leaves of myrtle and laurel, to give to the ricotta an exceptional and distinctive taste  

The Desserts and The Wines

The desserts are numerous and mouth-watering.

Torrone –nougat- is made with toasted almonds honey and/or with must which is cooked fresh grape juice.

The sapa is a round nougat made with must, roasted almonds, bran, cinnamon, candied fruits and orange peels: similar specialties are made all over the island under other names.

Pabassinus is a pastry covered with minced raisins and chopped walnuts; papassinusis is the same pastry with the adding ofraisins, minced anise seed, cinnamon and cloves. Zippulas or zeppole are fried doughnuts made for Saint Joseph and during the Carnevale, the celebrations before Lent.

The sospiri di Orzieri – the sights of relief of Orzieri – are made with egg white, honey and crushed almonds. Many other cookies, pastries and cakes are made using almonds, honey, preserved fruits, candied orange peels, eggs and fresh cheese and ricotta.

The majority of the wines are made with grapevines grown in Sardinia before prehistory. In the last few centuries some new species of vines have been introduced from various Italian regions. With time the vines have adapted to the Sardinia soil and environment to gain features common to Sardinian vines.

The well known Vernaccia from Orestano is a strong, dry amber wine offered as an aperitif or to consume with desserts.

Vermentino is a delicate, light and lovable white wine that goes well with fish.

Angialis is a strong dessert wine produced with Nasco and Malvasia grapes.

Cannonau wine is produced with the homonym grapes; the dry red variety is high in alcohol, it has a pleasant odor, a mellow taste, at times served with desserts, also it goes well with meat dishes; the rose’ and the white are dry with a fruity taste to compliment a fish dish or a dessert. The Cannonau red wine-liquor is produced secco, meaning dry which has an agreeable and strong aroma and is high in alcohol (18%); and in a sweet version, less alcoholic mallow and nicely scented.

Carignano is a red or rose’ wine that go well with appetizers, cheese and meat

Malvasia is a dessert wine that also comes in a sparkling type.

Nuragus goes well with fish; this dry and crispy wine is made from an indigenous grapevine.

Semidano is a light white wine fresh and flavorful; it is served with pasta, soups, veal and fish.

Myrto liqueur is produced from the abundant myrtle trees. Two aromatic liquors are produced: the Mirto Rosso or red, from the berries and Mirto Bianco or white, from the leaves.

These liquors are made by infusing the berries or leaves in alcohol with sugar, honey, wine, laurel, rosemary, juniper and other herbs.

The Mirto liqueur, red or white is appreciated for the fresh taste and pleasant aroma; it is consumed as a digestive, sipped after dinner, and used to prepare cocktails.