A Culinary Tour of Italy
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Sardinia is a big island where, despite the influence of summer visitors, the mentality is indeed insular—Sardinians refer to the rest of Italy as "the continent." Built-up tourist complexes crowd the coast, while interior hills remain covered with scrub, rocks, and grazing sheep. Look for fish and seafood on the coast, and lamb, sheep's milk cheese, or suckling pig inland. Crispy pane carasau (large rounds of flatbread) is a staple. Honey (like bitter corbezzolo honey) is the sweetener of choice, often found in the island's classic dessert, seadas—cheese ravioli, fried, then drizzled with honey. Tuna is fished in May, eaten fresh, canned under oil, or salt-cured to make bottarga (roe) and musciamme (filet). Bottarga is used on pasta, in risotto, paired with legumes, or sliced thin like prosciutto, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon. Don't even think about eating this dish with inferior or old bottarga, which may taste like cat food.
Introduce yourself to the island at La Gallura, on the northwest coast, where chef-owner Rita Denza offers up some of Sardinia's best cooking. She prepares the catch of the day to perfection—spaghetti with sea urchin sauce, deep-fried sea anemones, mussels in different preparations, and fish roasted in a wood-burning oven. The antipasto, on display in the dining room's center, could stand alone as a meal. The wine list offers the best of Sardinia's production and a small personal selection of wines from "the continent." Spend the night in one of the small, inexpensive rooms upstairs.
Da Nicolo, owned and run by the Pomata family on the island of San Pietro, off the southwest coast of Sardinia, is open from Easter through September. Look for traditional Theabarkina dishes (a local blend of Ligurian, Mediterranean, and North African cuisines) like cashca', couscous, tuna bottarga and salt-cured tuna filet—foods that serve as a reminder of Italy's culinary diversity. Also not to be missed is cooking inspired by chef Luigi Pomata's culinary travels (in the kitchens of Le Cirque, Osteria del Circo, and Marco Pierre White, among others). To bring a taste of Sardinia home, arrange a cooking lesson. Round out your stay by breakfasting on cappuccino and pastry, snacking on gelato, and enjoying a cocktail at Niko Bar, in piazza della Repubblica. Luigi will help guests find a place to stay on the island until the restaurant's 16 suites are ready for the 2006 season.
It's impossible to leave the island without a bottle of mirto, the after-dinner drink of choice in Sardinia—an infusion of myrtle leaves and berries. Try to find an artisanal product instead of an industrial brand. For a nonalcohol taste of the fruit, look for preserves, confettura di mirto.
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