The island of Sardinia perhaps most quickly conjures up the idea of sardines. A small island off of the western coast of Italy, it certainly incorporates seafood in to much of its regional cuisine. However, Sardinia has such a rich and various history that it bears little resemblance to the traditional idea of Italian cooking. Like many other Italian regional cuisines, Sardinia’s regional taste is often a surprise for a palette that is expecting red sauce and parmesan cheese to be the beginning and end of traditional Italian cooking. While it is a region of Italy, Sardinia’s history is shared with explorers of many European nations, such as Greece, France, and Spain. This diverse history of people shows in the traditions and culture of this isolated island destination.
While, being an island, seafood, especially shellfish, plays a large part in the regional cuisine of Sardinia, very few Sardinian meals do not incorporate lamb, a rich resource in the mountainous inland of the island of Sardinia. In addition to the lamb’s meat, a favorite of Sardinian chefs, very few meals are complete without the company of sheep’s milk and wild fennel. Stews and roasts are popular choices for the people of Sardinia. Looking at any Sardinian recipe, it is easy to see that the cuisine of this hilly island is a veritable stone soup of the many different cultures that have passed through the island over the years.
The seafood traditions of the Greek isles can be found in the mussel stews and roasted lobster dishes that keep the island’s fishermen busy. Malloreddus is a Sardinian pasta that can be found in many stews and pasta dishes accompanying chicken or rabbit basted in fennel or saffron. Malloreddus is a grooved pasta that very much resembles gnocchi in taste and texture, and is made of semolina flour and sometimes seasoned lightly with saffron, while most gnocchi is made with potato.
Stews are very popular in the regional cuisine of Sardinia, and even meat and poultry dishes are served in rich cooking sauces that could just as easily be served as soups. For this reason, accompanying a Sardinian entrée with a hearty crusted bread or a side of potatoes makes for a very filling meal. Pasta, in the traditional sense is not as large a part of Sardinian cooking as in other regions of Italy. The pastas of Sardinia are more commonly associated with Middle Eastern cuisine. Hearty grains and fusilli more commonly accompany the dishes of Sardinian regional cuisine, as opposed the lasagna, spaghetti or linguine that Americans more commonly associate with Italian cooking.
Between the diverse history of Sardinia’s people, from France to the Middle East, and the various different landscapes and resources that can be found throughout the island, it is hard to put Sardinian cuisine into one category. One thing is for sure though, while you will find many different types of food on the island of Sardinia, it is unlikely that you will find anything like it anywhere else in the world.