Monday, 31 May 2010

A Taste of Sardinia

When I attended one of the highly recommended cookery courses at Su Sazzagoni, it was much more than an delicious introduction to Sardinia's unique cuisine. It was a complete, sensory immersion in the island's traditions, geography, history and wine. This included a very enjoyable lunch that almost rivalled my memorable dinner at the restaurant.

I, and the other would-be chefs sat down to a flavoursome, meaty (vegetarian alternatives were available) starter of salami with fennel and parma ham. As we sipped on Vermentino, a very good dry white from the island, our host, the lovely owner, Elena, told us that even the grapes grown in Sardinia are completely different from those found in the rest of Italy. It was explained to us that Sardinian cuisine uses lots of simple, seasonal and fresh ingredients and very little chilli or butter.

We moved over to the kitchen where the twinkly eyed, smiling chef showed us how to make light, buttery gnocchi. Fans of mashed potato – I imagine that is just about everybody – can use some of the same tricks. There was a certain amount of adapting from local recipes necessary to take account of the availability of ingredients, and the chef suggested we use Maris Piper potatoes, even though they use red potatoes in Sardinia. The potatoes should be boiled whole in their skins (which means they absorb less water), before removing the skins when still hot and then sieving.

We went on to cook, and eat, a flavousome seafood fregola (often described as a Sardinian couscous, but actually rather more like a risotto), and malloreddus alla campidanese (a spicy sausage pasta), all the while assisted by the friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgable staff.

This resulted in some other useful tips:
  • Cook mussels and clams in oil – not water – in order to preserve their flavour.
  • After cooking seafood in a pan, soak up the flavours using white wine and use the liquid in your risotto.
  • If you make fresh tomato sauce with basil and don't add anything else (such as pine nuts), it will keep for much longer.
When I was at Su Sazzagoni, a couple who had come for lunch were pouring over a map of the island with Elena the owner. Having tasted something of Sardinian food, they were eager to visit the island. I felt the same way. D. H. Lawrence wrote that Sardinia is 'lost between Europe and Africa and belonging to nowhere'. Yet although the island is actually closer to North Africa than to Italy, Sardinia does not seem to suffer from any lack of sense of identity.