As the second-largest island in the Mediterranean behind Sicily, Sardinia is a top destination for intrepid travelers. The island beckons beachgoers from around the world with its crystalline blue waters and sun-soaked beaches. While Sardinia’s rugged landscape dominated by granite and schist attracts the more adventurous traveler with trekking, climbing, and canyoning excursions. For those seeking enogastronomic experiences, Sardinian food and wine offer a trove of treasures to explore.
Though the island is technically Italian, Sardinia’s lively history has produced a culture distinctly its own over the last two millennia. The ancient Nuragic people were the first inhabitants of Sardinia as far back as 1500 to 460 B.C., and their presence can still be felt on the island in the 7,000 nuraghe stone structures they left behind.
Next came the Phoenicians, followed by a period of Roman rule. Eventually, the Aragonese conquered Sardinia in 1323. Later in 1861, Sardinia became part of the unified Italian state under King Victor Emmanuel II. With a history like this, an amalgamation of cultures is evident in Sardinian cuisine and traditions.
Sardinia is the ultimate luxury destination in Italy, offering spectacular coastlines, pristine countryside, fascinating history, and fantastic food and wine. With Cellar Tours you enjoy the finest this gastro island has to offer, on a private Food & Wine tour.
The Centenarian’s Diet
Sardinia is one of the world’s Blue Zones where many people live longer than average, often up to 100 years old or more. Compared to the United States, Sardinia has ten times more centenarians per capita. Partly due to genetics, but more so because the culturally isolated island maintains a traditional healthy lifestyle and diet.
The typical Sardinian diet mainly includes whole grains, dairy, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Meat and seafood are both enjoyed. However, meat is usually reserved for family meals on Sunday or for special occasions. Bread and cheese are also staples at the Sardinian table. Sardinians regularly hunt, fish, and grow the food they eat. Many families still produce their own olive oil and wine. A daily glass of Cannonau, Sardinia’s most prominent red wine, has two to three times as many flavonoids as other red wines, which are good for heart and artery health.
Pane carasau is an impressively thin and crunchy bread savored widely throughout Sardinia. It’s an ancient recipe which some historians speculate could have originated in the Nuragic era. Making pane carasau has always been a family affair carried out by the skilled women in the household. This iconic symbol of Sardinian food keeps for over 180 days. Therefore, it was the ideal food for shepherds to carry on their long outings to summer pastures.
Making Pane Carasau
This Sardinian bread gets its name from the double-toasting method used in their making, called carasadura in Sardo. The breadmaking process begins with s’inthurta, which involves combining and kneading the dough within a large terracotta basin. The dough for pane carasau is made from mixing semolina, flour, water, salt, and fresh yeast. Cariadura is the next step in which the dough is kneaded on the table.
Then, pesadura involves placing the dough in terracotta or cork bowls covered with wool sheets. As the dough sits, the women prepare the rest of the tools needed to make pane carasau. Finally, Oridura or sestadura sees the dough cut into smaller pieces by hand, formed into small balls, covered in flour, placed back into the terracotta bowls, and covered.
The skillful hands of Sardinian women come into play for illadadura, as the dough is rolled out thinner and thinner into a seemingly perfect circle. Now it’s time to cook the dough, known as coghere. First, the disks of dough are put into a 450-500°C wood-fired oven using a tool like those used for making pizza. The dough cooks and rises rapidly in the oven as a large air pocket forms within, separating the top from the bottom.
Once removed from the oven, it’s time for fresadura:
- The pane carasau is separated into two thin sheets, and this must be done while the dough is still piping hot, or else the sheets will end up sticking together again.
- The bread is cut along the outer edge while taking care not to be burned with the steam released.
- Carasadura involves returning each sheet into the oven for its second run.
- Each circle of bread is masterfully rotated to ensure even cooking.
If you ever get the chance to see the process in action, don’t miss it. The making of pane carasau is a marvelous sight to be seen.
Other Sardinian Bread
Pane guttiau is a popular enhancement of pane carasau. To prepare this Sardinian food favorite, sheets of pane carasau are drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and baked in the oven until golden brown.
Another typical Sardinian bread is pane civraxiu, first made in the village of Sanluri in the Campidano Plain. Civraxiu is a large bread with a golden crust and a soft compact crumb, traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven. Each family has its recipe handed down through the generations.
Another popular bread is moddizzosu, made with semolina, a small amount of flour, and potatoes, which give this Sardinian bread its trademark softness. Moddizzosu, which originated in Campidano, is typically a round, thick bread occasionally enriched with pork fat.
In Cagliari in the south of Sardinia, you’ll find sa costedda, a type of focaccia made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil. Then there’s pane modde, a Sardinian bread reminiscent of the piadina in Romagna or the crescentina from Modena. It’s made from the same dough as pane carasau and was traditionally cooked in the wood-fired oven as it cooled down after making pane carasau. When cooking pane modde, the bread is slightly moistened with a saltwater mixture to give a brilliant, shiny finish, or imbridadura. Pane modde is often eaten filled with salsiccia sarda, prosciutto crudo, or cheese. Notably, it’s also a key ingredient in la suppa cotta con pane poddine, made with sheep broth, pecorino cheese, and sliced, fresh panedda cheese.
Historically, the ornate coccoi bread was only the richest in Sardinia. While the poor reserved this special bread for festivities and holidays. Coccoi is made with durum wheat semolina and has a hard crust with a soft interior. Only a tiny amount of water is added to ensure the interior is dense. Furthermore, coccoi is adored for its ornate decorations, of which there are many. First, a tool called a serretta is used to cut the bread’s outer serrated edge. Then, skillful hands carve the upper crust of the bread into designs with a small knife called an arrasojedda, and little scissors are used for the smaller details. Different types of coccoi are made and given for specific rituals and festivities, such as wedding celebrations or Easter.
Casu marzu cheese
A cheese made exclusively in Sardinia, Fiore Sardo’s production dates to the fourth century A.D. This shepherd’s cheese made from raw Sardinian sheep’s milk is named fiore or flower in reference to the traditional molds used to shape the cheese. They were perforated wooden molds of chestnut or wild pear wood with a stylized flower inlay, which would leave a floral design on the cheese. In 1966, Fiore Sardo obtained the Protected Designation of Origin.
One of the island’s most well-known cheeses, casu marzu or casu martzu, is also somewhat controversial. Casu marzu exists thanks to a shepherd’s mistake. It’s made from pecorino cheese that’s been attacked by dairy flies and colonized by their larvae. The cheese is also known as il formaggio che si muove, or the cheese that moves, and formaggio con i vermi, or cheese with worms.
During the ripening process, which lasts three to six months, the larvae feed on the cheese, transforming it into a pungent and lightly spicy cream. Unfortunately, the sanitary regulations of the E.U. prohibit the production and marketing of this cheese. So, if you want to try this historic Sardinian food, you’ll need to find a shepherd who makes it.
Another cheese made only in Sardinia, Pecorino Sardo, is a semi-cooked, hard cheese. This cheese is made from the milk of indigenous Sardinian sheep, renowned for their milk production. The sheep feed on wild Mediterranean shrubs, which gives Pecorino Sardo its signature flavor. This cheese has several variations, including Pecorino Sardo Dolce, which offers a more mild, sweet, and delicately flavored version of the cheese. In contrast, Pecorino Sardo Maturo is intensely flavored and piquant after aging for two months minimum.
A curd is formed using sheep or goat milk. The curd is left to drain for a couple of days before being placed in a brine where the casu axedu becomes acidic, pungent, and salty. It often accompanies bread, vegetables, or salads when fresh. Once aged, casu axedu can be grated over pasta too.
Also known as “su casu cun s’axridda,” axridda is mainly produced in Cagliari. The cheese is made from either sheep milk or a mix of sheep and goat milk using rennet from either lamb, goat kid, or calf. Axridda has a unique production process in which, after being rubbed with mastic oil, and is covered with clay after sixty days of maturation. The clay insulates the cheese and eliminates the need for washing the rind or rotating the cheese on shelves. This process results in a buttery texture and complex flavors.
Casizolu or Peretta
Generally produced by farmers, casuzolu is a stretched-curd cow’s milk cheese. It comes from Montiferru, an area close to Oristano. The lengthy cheesemaking process involves breaking the curd then leaving it to rest until a specific point in lactic fermentation, which may take hours. Once there, pieces of curd are stretched while being heated in hot water, and then the process is repeated in cold water. Casizolu, also called peretta, is eventually formed into a round pear shape. After aging for a few months, it’s time to enjoy casizolu’s buttermilk, grassy flavors.
Other Notable Sardinian Food Products
Carciofo Spinoso di Sardegna
In addition to the typical prosciutto, lardo, and salami often served for aperitivo, Sardinians also enjoy salsiccia sarda. It’s typically made with minced pork meat, salt, pepper, minced garlic, and seasonings like fennel and anise. More rustic versions might include wild boar, goat, or lamb, and one family’s recipe might be different from the next, but in general:
- The mixture is left to rest in the refrigerator for twelve hours.
- The mix is then used to stuff natural casing made from intestines that have been washed with wine or vinegar.
- The ends of the casing are bound by hand and formed into a horseshoe shape.
Carciofo Spinoso di Sardegna
Spiky Sardinian artichokes find their preferred soil in coastal areas or along riverbanks on the island. Distinguished by their unique shape, spikes, and bright purple color, carciofo spinoso di Sardegna are very tender with a fleshy core. They’re so tender and delicate that they can be eaten raw dipped in a mixture of olive oil and salt. Carciofo spinoso di Sardegna are delicious when preserved sott’olio (under oil). For an authentic taste of Sardinian food, try carciofo spinoso prepared with bottarga and paired with a glass of Vernaccia d’Oristano.
Bottarga di Muggine
Bottarga di Muggine is a flavorful delicacy of the island that can not be missed, made from the roe pouches of the flathead grey mullet. The roe pouches are cleaned, cured in salt, pressed, and then dried to form bottarga, and the finished product is loaded with salty, savory flavor. This Sardinian specialty is usually grated, sliced, or chopped and used to flavor various dishes. Plus, bottarga can also be served for aperitivo sliced thinly and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
There is also bottarga di tonno, made from the roe of tuna fish. Once thought of as a poor man’s meal, today it’s more of a luxurious treat enjoyed throughout Sardinia.
Zafferano di Sardegna DOP
Considered the red gold of Sardinia, saffron is one of the island’s most precious spices. It’s cultivated in the province Medio Campidano in the villages of Turri, Villanovafranca, and San Gavino Monreale. Notably, Zafferano di Sardegna is exceptionally fragrant with more intense color and flavor than other saffron.
Another product unique to Sardinia, corbezzolo honey, is adored for its bitter flavors. The honey is born from the flowers of the corbezzelo tree, which is a western Mediterranean shrub fruit. Typically produced in autumn and more so in years with plentiful summer rains and a mild August, these are the optimal flowering conditions for the plant. Corbezzelo honey pairs exceptionally well with fatty cheeses and is also served with saedas, a traditional Sardinian dessert.
Popular Antipasti in Sardinia
Pizzetta Sfoglia Cagliaritana
For antipasti, Sardinians will commonly serve an assortment of cheeses and charcuterie mentioned above with pane carasau or another traditional Sardinian bread. Olives and different vegetables preserved sott’olio are also typically enjoyed. Here are a few other must-try Sardinian antipasti.
Insalata di Polpo
Octopus salad is a fresh dish bringing the taste of the Mediterranean Sea to the table. The octopus is first cleaned then beaten to tenderize the meat. Next, the octopus is boiled and cut into chunks. Finally, Insalata di polpo is seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, celery, salt, and pepper. It’s left to rest in the refrigerator for one hour for the flavors to combine before serving.
Zuppa di Cozze
Zuppa di cozze is an easy-to-prepare antipasto with succulent flavors of the sea. Garlic and olive oil are heated in a pan. Next, the mussels are added, then covered with a lid. Once the mussels have opened, white wine is added and cooked until the alcohol evaporates. Then, the mussels are removed, and the leftover sauce is strained off. Next, garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, and tomato puree are cooked with that leftover sauce. After simmering the sauce, the mussels are added back in and chopped parsley to finish the dish. Zuppa di cozze is served with pane carasau and incredibly delicious alongside a glass of Vermentino.
For a different take on mussels, try cozze fritte. This preparation sees mussels cooked in a covered pan with olive oil, garlic, and parsley until they open. The mussels are removed from their shells, dredged in semolina, and fried in hot oil. Basil and fennel are also fried until crunchy and served on top of the cozze fritte.
Sardinia has a long history of cooking snails, known as lumache on the island. Especially popular in the northern province of Sassari, lumache are prepared in a variety of ways. They are commonly sautéed with oil, garlic, parsley, and breadcrumbs or served in a slightly spicy tomato sauce.
Carciofi e Bottarga
A purely Sardinian antipasto, carciofi e bottarga is exceptionally delicious and easy to prepare. The Sardinian artichokes are cleaned, cut into quarters, and finely sliced, and then placed in a bowl of water and lemon juice to prevent any browning. To serve, the artichokes are drained from the liquid, laid on a plate, and dressed with sliced bottarga, olive oil, and lemon juice.
Pizzetta Sfoglia Cagliaritana
Pizzetta sfoglia are a common antipasto throughout Sardinia which originated in Cagliari. Consequently, they’re also known as Cagliaritana. This antipasto is made from puff pastry rounds filled with a tasty tomato sauce, anchovies, and capers.
Involtini di Cavolo
Involtini di cavolo, or stuffed cabbage rolls, are a traditional Sardinian food which can be served as antipasti, contorni, or secondi. Cabbage leaves are first boiled, then wrapped around a soffrito of garlic, onions, and celery, along with minced meat. Then, the involtini are browned in a pan with splashes of broth and tomato sauce as needed; to serve, the involtini di cavolo are topped with grated pecorino and their sauce.
Panadine is a tasty Sardinian food reminiscent of a hand pie. Their dough is made from a mixture of semolina, lard, and water, which is worked until smooth. Next, the dough is cut into circles, and a variety of fillings can be sandwiched between the dough, including peas and pancetta, vegetables, or meat and potatoes. The classic closure for panadine involves pinching and twisting the edges of the dough together. Finally, the panadine is baked until golden brown and crispy. They can be served as antipasti, though panadine is hearty enough for a complete meal.
Primi Piatti in Sardinia
Malloreddus alla Campidanese
Also known as gnocchetti Sardi, malloreddus is a type of handmade pasta with a gnocchi-like shape. In other parts of Sardinia, the pasta is called zizoneddos. However, zizoneddos are somewhat smaller and not as elongated.
Malloreddus all campidanese is a pasta preparation typical of the Campidano Plain made with saffron, fresh sausage with fennel seeds, tomatoes, and pecorino cheese. Alternatively, you’ll find zizoneddos cooked in more northern areas of the island with wild fennel, tomato sauce or ragù, and pecorino cheese.
Typical of Ogliastra, culurgiones are a Sardinian version of ravioli or dumplings, with subtle regional variations. The traditional version from Ogliastra is filled with potatoes, pecorino cheese, onions, garlic, and mint. Other fillings may include chard, spinach, or saffron. Culurgiones are typically served in tomato sauce and topped with grated pecorino cheese.
Fregola Sarda is an authentic pasta made exclusively in Sardinia. It’s a handmade pasta whose name means little crumb, made of little hand-rolled balls of durum wheat semolina toasted in the oven when fresh. Fregola Sarda is either cooked in boiling water or a broth or sauce. You’ll find a variety of fregola preparations throughout the island. Fregola con arselle (clams) or fregola ai frutti di mare are two delicious seafood preparations whose brothy sauces bring flavors of the sea. Saffron can be included here as well for a more flavor-packed dish. Fregola Sarda can also be prepared in a similar style to risotto.
Su filindeu is one of Italy’s rarest pasta. It’s so rare that only the women of a single Sardinian family in the province of Nuoro have known how to make it for the past 300 years. The skilled hands of pasta maker Paola Abraini make su filindeu by mixing semolina flour, water, and salt to create a dough that is pulled and folded repeatedly by the fingertips into 256 perfectly even thin strands of pasta. The fragile pasta wires are then stretched diagonally across a circular frame in an intricate, layered pattern.
Traditionally, for the past 200 years, su filindeu was only served to pilgrims who trekked by foot or horseback from Nuoro to the village of Lula for the Feast of San Francesco. Moreover, the pasta is at risk of extinction without passionate pasta makers willing to take on the time-consuming and challenging production process.
Spaghetti con la Bottarga
One of the most straightforward and most flavorful pasta in Sardinia is spaghetti con la bottarga. While the spaghetti is cooking, a simple sauce of finely minced shallots, crushed garlic, and olive oil is prepared. The cooked pasta is added to the sauce in the pan and then sprinkled with grated bottarga. Additional variations may include chopped parsley, lemon zest, or toasted breadcrumbs.
Spaghetti ai Ricci
Another popular seafood pasta in Sardinia is spaghetti ai ricci. Sea urchins are common in Sardinia and are often consumed raw with just a splash of lemon. After cooking the spaghetti, the pasta is added to a pan with garlic, olive oil, parsley, and chilies. Finally, the sea urchins are added at the last minute before serving.
Cascà alla Carlofortina
Cascà all carlofortina is a Sardinian couscous recipe difficult to find outside of the Sulcis region. The dish is honored at the Cuscus Tabarchino festival held every April in Carloforte. The couscous typically incorporates chickpeas and wild fennel. However, variations add different vegetables, herbs, and meat depending on the season.
La Zuppa Gallurese
Also called suppa cuata, la zuppa gallurese isn’t a soup, as the name suggests. It’s more like a casserole; to assemble the dish, stale bread or pane carasau is soaked in sheep broth, then layered with pecorino cheese, mint, and parsley. Zuppa Gallurese is then topped with cheese and baked until golden brown.
Other Unique Sardinian Pastas
Dating back to the 16th century, lorighittas are handmade pasta typical of the Morgongiori village in the province of Oristano. The braided, ring-shaped pasta is left in a basket to dry before being cooked in any number of sauces.
Additionally, macarrones de busa is handmade pasta made from semolina and water. The pasta is formed by wrapping the dough around a knitting needle and can be dried or cooked fresh.
Sardinian Foods for a Side Dish or Meal
The following are several must-try Sardinian foods that are hearty enough to be served as a whole meal but could also be served as a separate course.
Pani frattau is a dish that was originally invented to use up old pane carasau. To make the dish, layers of pane carasau are soaked in a hot sheep broth and then topped with tomato sauce, pecorino cheese, and poached egg.
Melanzane alla Sassarese
Melanzane alla Sassarese is an eggplant recipe not to be missed. First, eggplants are cut in half lengthwise, and the flesh is scored with a grid pattern. Then, parsley, garlic, and chile peppers are finely minced and placed on top of the scored flesh. The eggplant is drizzled with oil and seasoned with salt before being grilled skin-side down. They’re cooked over the grill until the flesh becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender and is easily scraped out of the skin. Melanzane alla Sassarese is the ideal side dish for meat or seafood cooked on the grill.
Must Try Secondi in Sardinia
Roasted suckling pig – su porchedduRoasted suckling pig – su porcheddu
Su porceddu is a quintessential Sardinian food that can’t be missed. It’s a roasted suckling pig, which must be approximately forty days old to ensure the meat is tender. The most traditional way to prepare su porceddu involves roasting the pig wrapped in mirto or myrtle leaves over a fire pit. Su porceddu is often prepared for holidays or special occasions and is best enjoyed with a glass of Cannonau.
This is an ancient dish historically prepared by peasants and shepherds. Sa piscadura is typically made with pig parts that weren’t consumed immediately after slaughtering, such as the head, ears, and legs. It’s reminiscent of a hearty stew made with pork, sausage, chickpeas, fava beans, cabbage, and potatoes. Each is fished out with a slotted spoon, hence the name piscadura, and pane carasau is dipped in the broth to serve.
Agnello con Carciofi
A traditional lamb preparation in Sardinia, agnello con carciofi, originated in the poor, pastoral traditions of the island. The dish involves slowly cooking lamb with garlic, Sardinian artichokes, potatoes, and fresh parsley. The combination of lamb and the carciofo spinoso gives a genuinely authentic Sardinian food experience.
Pecora in Cappotto
Pecora in cappotto, or sheep in coat, is another traditional Sardinian recipe representative of the island’s agropastoral culture. The mutton is boiled along with carrots, onion, celery, potatoes, thyme, salt, and chilies. Skimming the water or scamai s’abba is necessary to remove the foam released while boiling the meat. Pecora in cappotto is often served with the broth and pane carasau.
Sanguinaccio di Maiale
Sanguinaccio di maiale, known as Sardo as sanguineddu, is a pork blood sausage originating in the ancient agropastoral traditions of raising domestic pigs in Sardinia. It’s made by mixing pork blood with raisins, sugar, cinnamon, aniseed, and cloves. The mixture is left to sit overnight. Then, the following day the pig intestines are filled with the blood mixture, tied, and boiled. The sanguinaccio di maiale is sliced to serve.
Sa Trattalia and Sa Cordula
Different versions of sa trattalia are found throughout Sardinia, though traditionally, the dish comes from Ogliastra. It’s a means of using all the leftover parts of the sheep after slaughter. The heart, lung, liver, spleen, small intestine, and peritoneum are tied on a spit using the intestines, wrapped in a layer of fat, and roasted. In contrast, sa cordula is covered with part of the stomach. In either case, it’s served on bread to absorb all the fat and flavor of roasted offal.
In Sassari, you’ll find a dish made with beef entrails called zimino. The diaphragm, small intestine, rectum, liver, and sometimes the kidneys and spleen are grilled. Once cooked, they’re cut with scissors and eaten by hand, seasoned only with salt and pepper.
Burrida is a Sardinian technique used with skate, dogfish, or any other firm fish. It involves simmering sliced fish in a broth flavored with celery, onion, carrot, and lemon. Cagliari’s take on burrida, called burrida a sa casteddaia, then sees the fish dressed in a sauce of garlic, walnuts or pine nuts, parsley, and vinegar. The fish is always served cold after it has had a few hours to absorb the sauce. Oristano’s version of burrida uses a tomato sauce rather than nuts and vinegar.
Spigola alla Vernaccia
Spigola alla Vernaccia is a delicious seabass dish made with oxidized, savory Vernaccia di Oristano wine. The seabass is stuffed with garlic, parsley, and sundried tomatoes, then dredge in flour. Next, the fish and black olives are set in a baking dish. Vernaccia is added throughout the cooking process, so the fish is never dry. The result is the perfect combination of Mediterranean flavors.
Aragosta alla Catalana
You’re likely to find aragosta alla Catalana in the northwestern city of Alghero. The dish comprises boiled lobster and meat cut into small pieces. Then it’s mixed with tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and lemon juice. Sometimes potatoes and capers are added, too.
Seadas drizzled with honey
Seadas are irresistibly delicious and the trademark dessert of all Sardinian food. A light pastry crust housing pecorino cheese is fried until golden and crispy, then drizzled with honey right before serving. Grated lemon zest is sometimes added to the filling. The real trick to saedas is the pasta violata, or abused pastry made of semolina flour and lard. It requires a lot of elbow grease to get the right consistency.
These shortcrust pastry cookies are made with eggs, flour, sugar, lemon zest, and baking soda. Raisins, chopped walnuts, and almonds are also mixed into the dough. After resting, the dough is rolled out and cut into diamond shapes. Once the pabassini are baked, they’re frosted with icing made from sugar, water, and a touch of lemon juice, then decorated with sprinkles.
Pan’e Saba or Pane di Sapa
Pan’e saba is a Sardinian cake made with a thick grape syrup called saba or sapa. It was traditionally made in the fall or winter after the grape harvest and only for special occasions. The basic version of pan’e saba is made with grape syrup, flour, eggs, milk, raisins, and baking powder. Other ingredients like hazelnuts or dried fruit might be added, too.
These traditional Sardinian cookies are also made with saba. Tiliccas are shaped into a unique horseshoe spiral shape filled with grape must syrup, orange zest, and ground almonds.
Liquore di Mirto
Liquore di mirto is the perfect way to end a meal of delicious Sardinian food. It’s made by macerating red myrtle berries in alcohol for several weeks. The liquid is then strained and sweetened, resulting in a liqueur with herbaceous myrtle flavors.
About Nicole Dickerson
WSET certified international wine writer with a passion for rare varieties and cellar hand experience in both hemispheres. Join me in the vineyards and cellars of the wine world at palmandvine.com.