PHILIPPA Davis has recently returned from her first visit to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia …
Sardinia meant a new destination and new client for me so it was very exciting. The initial introductions were done over the phone and it all seemed that it would work out very nicely until …
“Oh yes, we eat practically anything”! (client)
“Yes, and we wondered how you felt about cooking baby …” (phone line crackles at inopportune moment)
“Baby…!” (more phone crackling)
Cripes, I thought what had I got myself into?
It turned out they were saying baby pig or “Su Porcheddu,” the Sardinian specialty of suckling pig, which is totally delicious. I was surprised when I got mixed reactions to pictures on my Instagram account, phollowphilippa of me giving ours a little massage with olive oil. Personally I have much more of an issue with people buying non-local or non-free-range or processed meat, or when they don’t make use of all the meat and bones that they buy. (High horse moment over).
I flew into Olbia airport and had made good arrangements with my client about what I looked like and what they looked like. (I almost went home with the wrong chap back in Val d Isere earlier this year, so didn’t wanting repeat confusion). The spectacular drive to the house took about an hour along the winding roads that overlook the rugged and hot hills of the island.
The first shop had been done for me, which was a fun way to start the week’s cooking. Jumping into the very pretty blue-tiled kitchen, I was delighted at the perfectly ripe tomatoes, peaches and soft fresh mozzarella they had chosen and guessed that shopping would be very much what was local and in season.
For an island that is super-popular with the jet-set crowd I was pleased to see that the shops in our area really did stick to what was local. This translates to what is at its tastiest although not always aesthetically beautiful. I am pleased to report Italians don’t have the same problem as we do in the UK where every fruit or vegetable has to be the same size and lumps and bumps are not permitted. I was amused when I couldn’t find any chocolate at the local supermarket to cook with but I could find five different varieties of peaches.
For those wishing to embrace the Sardinian food culture here are my favorite things you should look out for:
Su Porcheddu – suckling roast pig
Malloreddus – my new favorite semolina pasta that is like a curled up contact lens. It scoops up sauces brilliantly and is a delight to eat.
Bottarga – dried fish roe
Fregula – small round couscous-like but actually pasta balls that can be cooked like risotto or pasta.
The malloreddus pasta nearly pipped the pig to the post for this recipe – it’s a delightful size to eat and went particularly well with the sausage, fennel, chili, tomato, saffron and pecorino sauce I made.
The island, although not home to many charming old settlements, has an interesting Gaudiesque style of architecture and a mix of brown, orange and white villas dotted over the hills. A trip around the coast or to one of the islands is a must and we were interestingly near where Nelson kept his fleet in the Napoleonic wars, though he himself never set foot ashore as he was in ill health.
Here is the recipe for suckling pig which would be what you are eating if you were at our table for Christmas lunch. The smells as it cooked were superb and everyone including me couldn’t help but occasionally open the oven to have a peak at the pig.
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 suckling pig
1 fennel bulb
2 apples plus one small one for serving
handful each of parsley and thyme
1 garlic head cut in half horizontally
1 onion red or white peeled and chopped into four.
½ dry white wine like vermentino
Pre heat the oven to 160C. With a damp kitchen paper towel give the pig a quick wipe. Sprinkle with salt and give a quick massage with oil all over.
Stuff the belly with fennel, chopped apple, thyme, parsley stalk, garlic and onion. If the kidneys and heart are in you can leave them in as they can be eaten and or will add the flavor.
Then sit pig upright and try to position front legs stretching out and back legs tucked under – like an Egyptian jackal statue. Cover the ears in foil for cooking as otherwise they will burn. If you want to stuff an apple in the mouth at the end, stuff a ball of foil in the mouth at this stage.
Slit the pig in a few places so the skin does not burst when cooking (I made incision by the armpits and back legs) but not too deep).
Bake at 15 mins per pound at 160°C. After 1 1/2 hours add 1/2 pint water to the tray. At 2 1/2 hours add 1/2 pint white wine to the tray. Baste occasionally. The liquids will keep the pig moist and produce your gravy, but you don’t want to add them too soon as you also want the pig to roast.
Once cooked let it rest for half an hour, lightly covered in foil. There should be lots of lovely natural juice you can strain off and use for gravy.
Remove the foil ball and earmuffs and stuff a small apple in its mouth. Serve at the table to lots of oohs and ahhs with some delicious Sardinian wine.
Follow Philippa’s travels on her website, www.philippadavis.com