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:
- 1 pound malloreddus pasta
- ¾ pound sausage
- 3 T. olive oil
- ¼ cup minced onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 3 cups tomato pureé
- a few strands of saffron
- 2 T. water
- ¼ cup red wine
- a few fresh basil leaves (or a t. of dried basil)
- salt, pepper
- grated pecorino cheese
- Soak the saffron strands in a tablespoon or two of warm water.
- Remove the casings from the sausage and sauté it in the olive oil, breaking it up into small pieces.
- Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened.
- Add the tomato puree, the wine, the saffron and the water, the basil, salt and pepper.
- Simmer all together for about ½ hour to 45 minutes.
- Boil the pasta and add the ragu a little at a time, making sure you don't "drown" the pasta in sauce.
- Sprinkle grated pecorino on top before serving.