Saturday, July 28, 2018

Malloreddus alla Campidanese


If there’s one dish that’s synonymous with Sardinia, it’s the pasta called “malloreddus.” They’re similar in shape to cavatelli or gnocchi, and in fact you can find them in Italian specialty food stores labeled “gnocchetti Sardi.” But unlike gnocchi, no potatoes are used — just flour and water. And unlike cavatelli, they’re made with semolina flour, not regular flour, giving them a more “toothy” feel.

Depending on whom you ask, the word malloreddus is a diminutive of a Southern Sardinian word “malloru,” which translates to “chubby baby calves.” Another explanation (that makes more sense to me) is that it comes from the Latin word “mallolus” meaning “morsel.” Either way, they are delicious.

You can make the pasta at home using flour, water (and sometimes strands of saffron), but if you’re not up to the challenge, you can buy them in stores or online too.

I ate malloreddus several times during our recent trip to Sardinia, including at an agriturismo, where they were one of two pasta dishes served as primi piatti. The malloreddus are on the right, and a specialty pasta stuffed with potato called “culurgiones” is on the left. More on the agriturismo and the wonderful meal we ate there in another post.

A classic Sardinian recipe, served at all special occasions or for family dinners, is malloreddus alla Campidanese, using saffron in the sauce, rather than in the dough itself, and sausage. In Sardinia, the dish is as ubiquitous as pecorino cheese, another essential ingredient when serving this pasta. If you use store purchased malloreddus, the dish comes together quickly, and is a real crowd pleaser, even if the crowd is just you and your husband!

Before leaving Sardinian, I want to introduce you to another symbol of this beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the structure called “nuraghe.” Nuraghi (plural of nuraghe) were built between 1900 and 730 BCE (way back in the Bronze Age) by peoples of the Nuragic civilization, of which little is known. There’s no consensus on what these stone structures were used for, but many believe they were used for either military purposes, as homes for rulers or ordinary people, for religious rites or a combination of the above.

It is thought that there were once 10,000 Nuraghi scattered across Sardinia, and the remains of about 7,000 nuraghi can still be found. However, it’s dangerous to visit many on your own because of hazardous conditions. (You wouldn’t want to have huge boulders fall on you!) The one pictured below, Su Nuraxi at Barumini, in the south-central part of the island, is well maintained, however, and a guide takes you through the various levels describing the structure.

You’ll need little guidance however, to dig into this dish of malloreddus all campidanese, so I hope you give it a try.

Malloreddus alla Campidanese

  • 1 pound malloreddus pasta
  • 3/4 pound sausage
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 cups tomato pureé
  • a few strands of saffron
  • 2 T. water
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • a few fresh basil leaves (or a t. of dried basil)
  • salt, pepper
  • grated pecorino cheese
  1. Soak the saffron strands in a tablespoon or two of warm water.
  2. Remove the casings from the sausage and sauté it in the olive oil, breaking it up into small pieces.
  3. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened.
  4. Add the tomato puree, the wine, the saffron and the water, the basil, salt and pepper.
  5. Simmer all together for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.
  6. Boil the pasta and add the ragu a little at a time, making sure you don’t “drown” the pasta in sauce.
  7. Sprinkle grated pecorino on top before serving.









Friday, July 20, 2018

Gnocchi in Pecorino Sauce with Guanciale

For those of you receiving these posts by email, I’m sorry about the funky formatting of the last entry. Due to computer problems, I had to create the post on my iPad, and obviously, I found out there are limitations to that platform. Hopefully this post, written on my new computer (yea!) has come through without any problems in viewing. To read my last post about pecorino di Pienza cheese, go to the actual site,

Continuing on the pecorino theme, if you’re looking for heaven on a plate, have I got a recipe for you. These light as a cloud potato dumplings, served with guanciale and arugula in a creamy pecorino cheese sauce, were so divine, I was wishing I ordered a full portion for myself, instead of splitting it with my husband.

We ate these gnocchi as our primo piatto on a recent trip to Sardinia, at the restaurant in our hotel, La Villa Del Re.  After having tried a couple of other restaurants off site, we concluded that the hotel’s restaurant was unparalleled in its excellent cuisine. The chef here, Marco Granato, has a magic touch. Everything about this small hotel (adults only) along the Tyrrhenian Sea defines it as a special place, and one we can’t wait to go back to.

The food, the hospitality and the service are exceptional here and the views are stunning too. All the meals we enjoyed at this dreamy hotel along Sardinia’s Costa Del Rei were delicious and beautifully presented –

From breakfast with a view of the infinity swimming pool and the sea:

To the cakes and scones at the daily tea time:
To the toothsome homemade pastas:
To the main courses:
And desserts:
To the drinks and munchies by the sea.
The view from the private beach was pretty special too – with a sea that looked like it was painted by a watercolorist.
I’m still wondering if it was all just a dream. If so, don’t wake me up!

Just in case you can’t get to La Villa Del Re anytime soon, here’s that heavenly gnocchi recipe for you, courtesy of Marco Granato, La Villa Del Re’s talented chef.

More recipes and fun adventures from Sardinia to follow in future posts.

Gnocchi in Pecorino Sauce with Guanciale
Author: Chef Marco Granato of La Villa Del Re
Serves: serves 10
  • For the Gnocchi:
  • 1000 grams (2.2 pounds) boiled potatoes
  • 500 grams (about 3 1/2 cups) flour
  • 50 grams fecola (about 1/3 cup potato starch)
  • 3 eggs
  • salt
  • For the Pecorino Sauce:
  • 350 grams (about 1 3/4 cup) milk
  • 200 grams (about 1 cup) mild pecorino cheese
  • 20 grams (1 1/2 T.) flour
  • 20 grams ( 1 1/2 T. )butter
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • For the Condiments:
  • 400 grams (small handful) arugula
  • 1/2 of a leek
  • 150 grams (about 1/3 pound) guanciale
  • 15 grams (1 T. ) extra virgin olive oil
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • salt, pepper to taste
  1. To make the gnocchi:
  2. Boil the potatoes in water with the lemon peel for 20 minutes.
  3. They should be cooked on the outside, but will finish cooking in the oven, which will also dry out some of the water.
  4. After boiling, drain the potatoes and put them on a baking sheet and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  5. After cooking, pass the hot potatoes through a potato ricer or a sieve and spread them out on a cookie sheet.
  6. Mix the riced potatoes with the flour, the fecola, the eggs and a bit of salt. Form the mixture into ropes, then cut each rope into small pieces to make the gnocchi.
  7. To Make the Pecorino Cream Sauce:
  8. Cut the cheese into small pieces, then put the butter and half the cheese into a pan over low heat until melted. Add the flour, making a roux, then add the milk, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the cheese and stir, letting the cheese melt, while adding salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more milk until reaching the desired consistency.
  9. To Finish:
  10. Cut the leek into small pieces.
  11. Cut the guanciale into small pieces
  12. Cook the leek in some olive oil at low heat for about 10 minutes. If it starts to turn dark, add some hot water or vegetable broth.
  13. Add the guanciale until it’s slightly crunchy, then add the thyme, salt and pepper.
  14. Boil the gnocchi in salted water, then in a separate pan with the sauce, gently stir the gnocchi in the pecorino sauce. Add the cooked guanciale and the arugula and serve on warm plates.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Pecorino Di Pienza

When most people think of pecorino cheese, they think of pecorino romano, the sharp cheese from the region of Lazio that’s grated over pasta. But there are plenty of other places throughout Italy where pecorino cheese is made, and I visited two of them recently, one in Sicily and one in Tuscany. This post focuses on one artisanal maker of pecorino di Pienza – Giancarlo Più – in the beautiful region of Tuscany, near Mont’Amiata. (Photo below by Ben Morse)

The name pecorino derives from the word pecora in Italian, which means sheep. And Giancarlo, owner of caseificio Più, has plenty of them – 1,300 in fact, amid 300 acres of beautiful rolling pasture and farm lands.

He’s got sheepdogs too, but they’re not really there to guard the sheep, so much as to provide an early warning signal if other animals, like wild boar or foxes threaten the flock. (Photo by Ron DeCicco)

The sheep are divided into groups, and are shifted to various pastures on the property in order to graze. In the colder months, when fresh forage is not available, Giancarlo feeds them various grains such as corn and barley that were harvested earlier in the year. The sheep are milked twice a day, using modern milking machines, and about 650 liters are collected each day.

In order to produce one kilo of cheese, it takes anywhere from 4 to 9 liters of milk, Giancarlo said. Nursing mothers and newborn babies are kept together for about a month, and their milk is not used for cheese, since it contains a high percentage of colostrum, the milk that is nutritious for newborn lambs. 

Giancarlo demonstrated how the cheese is made. First, a type of rennet is added (typically made from a young calf’s stomach), to help coagulate the milk. The milk is heated at a temperature of about 36 degrees centigrade, and after about 20 minutes, it starts to gel. At this point, it has a mild, milky flavor, like unsweetened panna cotta. It normally gets heated longer than 20 minutes, but Giancarlo wanted to demonstrate the process for us, so he started breaking up the gelled milk into curds. To make a softer, fresh type of cheese, he makes large cuts.

For an aged cheese, the cuts are much smaller, almost the size of grains of rice. The larger cuts retain more of the liquid (or whey) which is good for soft cheeses. But an aged cheese needs to release a lot of water so it doesn’t spoil before it’s ready to be eaten.

The curdled milk is poured into plastic forms (reed baskets were traditionally used), and the liquid that remains behind – the whey – is used to make ricotta cheese.

The first cheese that is formed is simply called the “cagliata semplice” and is without salt. It tastes very mild and can be eaten out of hand or used in recipes, including the one at the end of this blog post.

The cheeses are then salted and left to age, some for only a week, and others for as long as a year. The cheese tastes different each time he makes it because of all the variables, whether it’s the type of grass the sheep eat, or how soon the ewes have given birth. A ewe’s milk becomes richer and more filled with fat, the farther away from giving birth she is, leading to a more flavorful cheese.

“That’s the beauty of a small cheese producer,” said Giancarlo, in rapid-fire Italian. “You should have a surprise in your mouth every time you bite into a piece of cheese.”

And what surprises were in store for us, as Giancarlo and his wife Sabrina provided us with an unforgettable afternoon of cheese tasting, accompanied by homemade salumi and pane carasau, or carta di musica (the flatbread of Sardinia), along with Sardinian wines and beer.
Giancarlo instructed us to start with the youngest cheese, to take it in our hands, and sniff it, then to break it in half and smell it again.
It should give you an emotion every time you eat a piece of cheese, he said. “È una materiale viva. Ti può anche disturbare!” He said, explaining that it’s a living material that can even give you a “disturbing” sensation.
Almost all the cheesemakers in this part of Tuscany are originally from Sardinia, he said, an island which also has a rich history of cheesemaking. Many Sardinians arrived in Tuscany during the 1950s and 1960s. “Sardinians found exceptional pasture lands and knew how to make the most of them,” he said. His parents emigrated from Sardinia about 20 years ago, he said.

Giancarlo was clearly smitten with farming in general, and showed us around the rest of the property, where he kept lots of other animals, including these cinta senese, the special breed of black pig with a stripe, used for making top quality prosciutto and other kinds of salumi, including those we sampled with Giancarlo.
Just a few days earlier, a litter of baby pigs had been born, and Giancarlo let us hold the little sweeties, much to the delight of my daughter-in-law, Beth.
My niece’s daughter Emilia, in the arms of my son Michael, was a little skeptical of the baby goats at first, but quickly warmed to their presence.
Two of the animals with less than friendly appeal were these wild boar, although their appearance on Tuscan menus sure kept our interest.

We had such a fun-filled day and learned so much about not only cheese-making, but cheese tasting. The memories of this unforgettable experience will stay with us forever. Grazie mille, Giancarlo e Sabrina.

And now for a recipe using some of that cheese. This recipe is made with the unsalted fresh sheep’s milk cheese, or cagliata semplice – not easy to find where I live, and maybe not where you live either. It is similar in taste and texture to Greek halloumi cheese, which you should have no trouble finding. The recipe is from my week long stay at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school in Sicily earlier this year, where chef Michael Sampson prepared these for us with the cheese from a local caseificio. Don’t dismiss this idea if you don’t think you like anchovies. It will convert you, I promise. They’re easy to make and will disappear in a flash. Just take some good bread and slice it, then place a slice of cheese (halloumi works fine if you don’t have fresh sheep’s milk cheese). Add a sliver of anchovy, a sprinkle of oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake in a very hot oven (425 degrees) for a few minutes until cheese is melted and edges of bread are toasted.