Sardinia: Where People Live Forever
The most interesting fact about the island of Sardinia is that it boasts the largest number of centenarians per capita than any other place on Earth. Their consumption of clean, simple “peasant food,” together with red wine rich in antioxidants and polyphenols just may be the reason for their longevity.
Our Sardinian menu highlights the mainstays of their Mediterranean diet – legumes, vegetables, olive oil, pasta, cheese and seafood. Those together with, Cannonau, a red wine made from grapes indigenous to the island could be the key to living a long and healthy life.
Chickpea and tuna salad with arugula
Sardinian gnochetti with pork ragu
Marinated shrimp skewers with sweet peppers and red onions
Sardinian lemon ricotta tart
“So that’s how the other half lives,” I thought to myself as I walked into luxury resort, Cala di Volpe, in Porto Cervo on the island of Sardinia. I had never seen a place where you could park your yacht right outside your hotel room – kind of like a very upscale motel. This was, after all, the luxury complex built by the Aga Kahn in the 1960s that became the playground of the world’s rich and famous. He transformed the northeastern Sardinian coastline with its turquoise water into an oasis for the rich. It is easy to see why it is called La Costa Esmeralda / The Emerald Coast – it really is that green, with some of the clearest waters in the entire Mediterranean.
The Sardinian coast may be dedicated to tourism with its fine sandy beaches, but the interior still belongs to native Sardinians, who hold on to their customs, food and unique language. In startling contrast to the coast, the rest of the island is predominantly rural and unspoiled. There are vast plains of sheep pasture (sheep outnumber people 3:1 on the island) and green valleys of olives, vines and cork forests. I had never seen a cork tree before, no less forests of them, for as far as the eye could see. I remember being delighted to learn that they didn’t cut down the tree to harvest the cork, but patiently stripped the bark from them. Sardinia has earned a world-wide reputation as a leader in the production of wine corks.
Without a doubt, the most interesting fact about Sardinia is that it boasts the largest number of centenarians per capita than any other place on earth. There are many opinions as to why that is, but experts agree that the local wine, Cannonau, with its high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols probably has a lot to do with it. That is why I have chosen, Pala’s, I Fiori organic Cannonau to pair with our menu.
Another reason for the Sard’s longevity is attributed to their reverence for, and inclusion of, elder generations. They don’t dismiss their elders, if anything, they promote them. Usually there will be two or three generations of a family living in the same household. The family connection is extremely tight and there is an effort in keeping family together. Those who know me, will understand why I find these facts most interesting as I have been living in a three-generation household for several years and can unequivocally recommend it. I don’t want to think what these past three months of COVID isolation would have been like without the delightful daily chitter chatter and gleeful screeches of my three grandchildren.
But most relevant to our conversation is the effect of Sardinian “peasant food” on their longevity. Their diet is predominantly made up of beans, greens, and whole grains with a smattering of lamb, pork and fresh seafood. They also eat a lot of bread and cheese. In Sardinian cooking, cheese takes center stage. Almost every dish contains some form of it, mostly the local Pecorino Sardo, made with sheep’s milk.
Insalata di Ceci, Tonno e Ruchetta – people have cultivated chickpeas on Sardinia since the times of ancient Rome. They have a rich, earthy flavor that pairs well with our Cannonau wine. These combined with ripe tomatoes and the finest Italian olive oil-packed white yellowfin tuna, makes the quintessential Mediterranean summer salad.
Malloredus alla Campidanese is one of Sardinia’s most iconic dishes. Malloredus are small ridged pasta nuggets also known as Sardinian gnocchi. The sauce is named after the large Campidano plain and is the Sardinian equivalent of a pork-based Bolognese ragù. We finish the dish with slivers of Fiore Sardo, sheep’s milk cheese, one of Sardinia’s most ancient cheeses (apparently ancient Romans ate a great deal of it and believed it “increased fertility and fostered love-making”!)
The inspiration for Spiedino di Mare came after eating succulent shrimp skewers (a local specialty), grilled over an open outdoor fire in a Sardinian seaside trattoria. The shrimp are marinated in lemon, garlic and olive oil and then skewered with colorful sweet peppers and red onions.
Torta Sarda di Ricotta e Limone is a recipe that Italians know by heart. A simple cake made with yogurt and olive oil. It is a befitting conclusion to our rustic Sardinian dinner, pairing nicely with the final sips of our Cannonau.
Sardinians are culturally isolated and have kept to a very traditional and healthy lifestyle. They still hunt, fish and harvest the food they eat for the most part. They remain close with family and friends throughout their lives. They laugh and drink red wine together. Eat like the Sardinians, take away the stress of how to advance in your career (or how to keep the doors of your restaurant open) together with a reasonable amount of daily exercise and maybe we too can discover the secret to a long and healthy life.
To our health!