Following on from my ‘Mediterranean Feasts’, I’m in the midst of exploring, filming, eating and cooking my way around Sardinia, Corsica, Mallorca and Crete. The series will be aired on More4 later this year. It’s hugely inspiring to travel the islands and be reminded of how integral food is to the daily life of the locals. Islands are a great place to examine concentrated food culture: for centuries they have battled outside influences to maintain their sense of identity and nowhere is this more pronounced than in the food. The produce is amazing, the people are wonderful, the place is beautiful, the history is fascinating and I just might have to not come home.
The Sardinian coastline is rightly known for its seafood. The bar was set high by my first meal at Marbrouk restaurant, in Algerho. A plate of delicate and soft skate served cold in a traditional Sardinian tomato sauce made no concessions to the tourist palate and whetted my appetite for all the coastline treats in store.
Sticking to the seaside theme, I jumped on board with father-and-son-team Angelo and Gino, local lobster fishermen in Bosa, about 40 kilometres south of Alghero on the north western coast. The sun beat down as Angelo told tales of the day he caught so many lobsters he might as well have been harvesting potatoes. The city boy in me rose to the challenge of pulling in the 1 kilometre fishing net and, thankfully, the lobsters had performed for the camera. I watched as Angelo and Gino cooked up our freshly caught lobsters in a fire of dried reeds on a deserted Sardinian cove. It was a timeless scene.
Heading inland, the dominant ingredients changed from seafood to cheese, along with roasted and cured meats. Pasta was ubiquitous across the island but, again, the hyper-locality of ingredients and recipes means that one town’s pasta is completely different to the next. The obligation to try every variation needed, clearly, no further justification. In the town of Nouru, I watched the fascinating and talented Signora Paola as she made Filindeus, a pasta resulting from hand-stretching a single piece of pasta dough into over 250 super-fine strands. She is one of just ten people on the island who can do this. Another local pasta – Macarones de busa – is made in the Oliena area by rolling pasta around a knitting needle. The time, care and dedication that goes into producing these local foods is remarkable: the importance of process and identity bound up in food is part of what makes it so intriguing. I was told that certain types of traditional pasta can take up to 12 hours to make a single kilo. There are few shortcuts here and certainly, to date, no sighting of any Imperia electric pasta machines. . .
Up into the mountains to explore and cook with ricotta, one of my favourite cheeses. Rising at dawn to help milk the goats with shepherd Michele, followed by a breakfast of freshly-made ricotta, was a great life moment.
Family ties are strong on the island and Michele took me to meet his mother Signora Assunta, who introduced me to Sardinian sweets and gave me the opportunity to experiment cooking with the incredible ricotta.
My time in Sardinia was rounded off by Franco Mula, the welcoming farmer who introduced me to the very Sardinian tradition of meat roasted on an open fire. I spent the day with his family, as Mula cooked his milk-fed lamb and suckling pig. It was melt-in-the-mouth incredible. Hopefully the dish I made in return – Mula's lamb with figs, chicory and radicchio – went some way towards thanking them for their wonderful hospitality.