Purcavru in Agru Durci garnished with mirto
I told you all I was going to be making things interesting on here with different recipes from a variety of different world cuisines!
With the first in this series, I am giving a nod to my husband’s Sardinian roots. Sardinia is a small island off the coast of Italy in the vicinity of Rome. I was lucky enough to go there this past year when Roberto and I went with our moms on the “roots tour” of Italy. Roberto was born in Sardinia to Sardinian parents, but grew up in Rome. On our visit there last fall, we spent time with the extended family. It was lovely.
Sardinia is an interesting place, I immediately loved it because it has a rich culture both with herding animals (sheep and goats) but is also the place in Europe which has the greatest amount of megalithic structures, making this farm girl and history buff very happy!
These megalithic structures, round tower-fortresses called nuraghi, which ancient villages were built around are over 35,000 years old and there are over 8,000 of them on Sardinia, an island that is about the size and shape as Vermont. So that is a lot of pre-history going on there! If you aren’t into history, Sardinia is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, La Costa Smeralda- The Emerald Coast. There are also beautiful mountains (yes they get snow!) and lunar looking rock formations. There is an area towards the middle of the island that is called Valle Della Luna – The Valley of the Moon and looks just like Rohan from the Lord of the Rings movies. Fascinating landscape!
But the thing I loved about it most is that it is home to some of the oldest trees in Europe. We were able to visit 2 of these old olives, the oldest being 5,000 years old and the second oldest being around 3,000 – and still producing olives!!! For me, a nature worshiper it was akin to meeting Gandhi. The most amazing thing about Italy in general is that you can grow so much food! Nearly everyone that has even a small plot of land has fruit trees, some grapes to make homemade wine, nut and olive trees, veggie gardens, etc. I saw tons of pomegranate and fig trees. There is just so much abundance there!
Sardinia actually has its own language, Sardu, of which there are several dialects. Sardu has been influenced by Catalan, Spanish and indigenous Nuragic elements with some roots from Phoenician and Etruscan. So instead of the more familiar Italian “a” and “o” word endings, Sardinian words end with “u” and “s”, like our last name, Campus. This is because Sardinian is much like Latin. You can see this in the name of this dish Purcavru Agru Durci, which in Italian would be Cinghiale Agrodolce.
So what about the food? Well because of its location, Sardinian cuisine has been able to capture tastes from various Mediterranean influences: Catalan, Corsican, Spanish, Italian. The diet is rich in meats, like lamb, goat and pork, fresh vegetables, wonderful cheeses, fresh veggies and of course copious amounts of olive oil and rich red wine, famed for its high level of antioxidants- Cannonou. On the coast, where we didn’t spend much time, there is also a lot of fish and seafood consumed. And, like the rest of Italy the population consumes large amounts of pasta and bread. In fact as a gluten-intolerant, I had a hard time in Italy in general staying away from wheat as it is in almost everything from bread and pasta, to a thickener in sauces and a coating on vegetables and meats. I asked the question on facebook the other day after reading an article about how wheat is killing the world, how people like Italians, and especially Sardinians, known the world over as healthy and one of the longest living peoples could be in such a good state of health (the island has the world’s highest documented percentage of people who have passed the century threshold.) if wheat is the only factor. It was an interesting discussion, but none of us were able to really make sense of that!
But I digress. One thing which is very unique to Sardinian cuisine is the use of Mirto, or Myrtle. The plant is symbolic of love and immortality, and in Sardinia it is an essential plant. The berries (which look a bit like small blueberries, although there is a white version as well )are used to make a delicious aperitif, called “mirto”, which uses both varieties of berries separately, creating a red and white version and the leaves. Sardinians also use the leaves in cooking, similar in manner to bay leaves or other herbaceous plants. I was able to get some to bring home with me, and this is one of the ingredients that really makes this dish. The taste is very hard to place for me, but is most similar to a bay leaf.
I wasn’t able to get wild boar for this dish, but we did use meat from the half pig we bought this year (and butchered ourselves) from a local farmer.
Purcavru in Agru Durci (from Cooking in Sardinia)
4-5 TBS olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp myrtle leaves (substitute bay leaf)
1 ½ lbs boneless boar or pork meat, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tsp sugar
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1 TBS tomato Paste
Salt to taste
Sauté onion in a pan (I used cast iron) with 4-5 TBS of olive oil. Add about a tsp of chopped myrtle leaves. Add the meat and a pinch of salt and brown over medium heat. Blend sugar and vinegar, stir and pour over the meat. Then dilute tomato paste in a cup of warm water, add to the pan, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 45 mins. You will have to add more water intermittently so the stew doesn’t dry out. During the last five minutes, uncover pan to reduce the sauce.