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The sweets of Sardinia | National Geographic Traveller (UK)

The sweets of Sardinia | National Geographic Traveller (UK)

“Assaggia, assaggia!” Plump, sugar-coated white gueffus twinkle like pearls on the tray in Elena Piccioni’s small, wrinkled arms. “Dai, assaggia! Try one!” With a smile like that, I can hardly say no.

I pop one into my mouth, and the squidgy sphere begins to disintegrate, leaving me with all of the aromatic, grainy sweetness of marzipan, solely headier.

“Ti è piaciuto?” she asks, grinning. “Do you like it?”

It’s an emphatic nod, however I’ve to tempo myself — there’s extra to return.

I’ve come to the Piccioni sisters’ store, Sorelle Piccioni, in Quartu Sant’Elena, a city simply outdoors Cagliari. It’s a kitschy step again to the ’70s, with its wallpaper and lace, and I think the place has hardly modified because it was opened virtually half a century in the past.

“We used to make dolci for our fellow churchgoers,” says Elena. “But just for fun. Then our priest told us that he liked them so much and demanded we open a school to teach our skills to the locals.”

The native urge for food exhibits no signal of waning, if the regular stream of regulars popping their heads around the door is something to go by. And whereas the women may nonetheless be protecting the city’s dentists in enterprise, they’ve come a great distance from making muffins for the parish clergymen: hanging on the wall are numerous snaps of Elena and her sister, Mariolina, with every of the final three popes. I touch upon the sun-bleached pictures. Elena’s coy however there’s a twinkle in her eye. One thing tells me nothing’s fairly come near John Paul II tasting her amaretti biscuits.

“Try this.” She arms me a papassina — a darkish little cake topped with white icing and sprinkles. “Raisins, spices, toasted almonds, two types of honey, citrus — the more citrus, the better — and sapa.” I ask concerning the latter and Elena produces a jar of viscous, red-brown liquid from the kitchen. “Sapa’s a grape syrup,” she explains, as I odor its treacly, fruity aroma. “But we have to make it with the grapes’ first press. And, oh, it takes time…” She shakes her head, arms raised. “Ten hours! We’ll boil down 10 litres of wine for just 250ml of sapa.”

It appears some issues can’t be rushed. Within the kitchen, Mariolina takes 5 with a glass of water. She’s been rolling and wrapping tons of of gueffus by hand all afternoon. In 36C warmth like this, it’s thirsty work.

“We’re preparing for a wedding in France at the moment,” Elena tells me as I attempt an S-shaped meringue that crumbles into sugary shards as I chew into it. Even for my candy tooth, it’s slightly cloying. “We’re making 10 kilos of dolci for the happy couple,” she exclaims.

Behind the counter are mounds of lovely, ivory-white creations made out of almond paste: scarpine (pixie-sized footwear; they bring about good luck, Elena tells me), hearts and shells. And, though the sisters make every part by hand, they don’t appear in any respect fazed by the duty they’re confronted with. “We made 60kg of dolci for Milan Expo in 2015,” she says relatively coolly. A marriage, then, ought to be a bit of cake.

Scarpine at Sorelle Piccioni. Picture: Karolina Wiercigroch

Fats of the land
Given my smooth spot for all issues candy, I’ve undoubtedly travelled to the best place. Dolci sardi have been a mainstay of Sardinia’s delicacies for hundreds of years; recipes that faucet into an historic larder of nuts, honey, fruit and flowers stay unchanged, having been handed by means of the expert palms of housewives for numerous generations. Individuals I speak to coo over their favorite sweets, many of that are hooked up to reminiscences of sure celebrations — carnival, Easter, weddings and baptisms. And, judging by the quantity of bakeries and pastry outlets I cross, it’s an age-old custom in no hazard of dying out.

Having left Quartu Sant’Elena, I comply with the previous street to San Vito because it twists up the mountains like a snake — on one aspect, a steep valley, its pebbly flooring tracing a parched river; on the opposite, prickly pear cacti and forests of twisted oak and cork. I pull over to stretch my legs. The street is abandoned. A falcon circles excessive above. Cicadas chirp so loudly within the scorching scrub they sound like whirring bicycle wheels. It appears incongruous that I’m exploring this rugged nook of the island in pursuit of dainty sweets; one thing extra rustic — cheese, meat or foraged berries — can be extra becoming.

In San Vito, Monica Farris exhibits me across the Fratelli Marteddu manufacturing unit as a 10-strong workforce places the ultimate touches to as we speak’s bakes: tiny silver balls, sprinkles and white icing. The Marteddu brothers — Dino, Sandro and Piero — opened their first bakery within the city within the ’80s and now personal a (moderately apt) baker’s dozen of outlets throughout the area.

“Ah, one of our bestsellers,” says Monica with a smile, choosing up an amaretti biscuit: a fats, golden dome studded with a single almond. I take a chew; its completely baked, macaron-like crust provides option to spongy, amandine filling.

“We make these with almonds and a little lemon zest, because they grow around here,” she says. “But if you go higher into the mountains, they’ll make something similar with hazelnuts or chestnuts. It’s all about using what’s available.”

Elisa — one of the brothers’ daughters — exhibits me their Sardinia-shaped ciambella biscuits. Their crumbly texture jogs my memory of shortbread. However the place’s the butter? “We still use lard. It’s tradition,” she explains. “In older times, butter was difficult to make and store — especially with this climate — but lard was easy. Not everyone had a cow to make butter, either, but everyone kept pigs, from which they could make lard.”

Earlier than I depart, I style a pardula — a small cake made with ricotta, eggs and orange zest, wrapped in a skinny dough that’s not too dissimilar to recent pasta. Once more, there’s no butter within the dough — solely lard and deference to custom.

sardinian sweets

Making ciambelle biscuits at Fratelli Marteddu, San Vito. Picture: Karolina Wiercigroch

A style of custom
A pair of hours north, Antonietta Marotto hacks away at large, marble-white slabs of sticky torrone on the counter of her store with scary ease. She’d make an excellent butcher.

“Torrone’s made all over Sardinia, but nobody really knows how it first came to be made here,” she says. Her household’s store within the hillside village of Tonara sells little else aside from this marshmallowy nougat studded with nuts. “It was probably brought over by the Spanish but we don’t know when or how,” she provides. Chewing on the torrone recollects candy reminiscences of turrón from Spain: brittle, almond-heavy bars sandwiched between rice paper. However that is fairly totally different.

“Sardinian torrone is softer, and that’s the honey,” says her son, Angelo, who helps with the enterprise. “We always use Sardinian honey, and we try to use local nuts as much as we can. It makes a difference.”

“We’re great lovers of tradition,” his mom chimes in, “so we only make three types of torrone: hazelnut, walnut and almond. The recipe — just nuts, honey and egg white — has never changed.”

The recipe might not have modified, however then neither have the house owners. Simply over 100 years in the past, Angelo’s grandfather, Pietro, bought his torrone at native festivals (feste) from his horse and cart. The enterprise was handed to his son, Costantino, who opened a store 5 years after marrying Antonietta in 1972. In fact, whereas the recipe hasn’t modified, some issues have gone a bit of extra 21st century. “We don’t use a horse and cart for the feste anymore,” Angelo assures me. “Now we use a little van.”

It’s a great factor they’ve carried out away with the cart, I mirror, as I deal with the steep, winding drive out of Tonara. I catch distant, cobalt glimpses of the Tyrrhenian Sea between the hills because the street then descends into the quiet city of Oliena. It’s right here that the pastry chef Bastiana Deiana plies her commerce; harvesting the fruits of the native woods for her sweets — not simply oranges or lemons however pompia: a grapefruit-sized, knobbly yellow citrus unique to this nook of the island.

“Pompia used to grow in my father’s garden when I was a child,” Bastiana tells me. “It’s very unique. When you pick it, it has a bitter taste, but with a bit of work it becomes sweet and delicious.”

Specified by paper instances at her store, Dolci Idee, are lurid orange slicks of pompia peel, already boiled and dried, able to be blanketed with honey. “They’re very simple — and very good,” Bastiana enthuses. “Really, I could eat slice after slice and not get fat. I’m like a toothpick.”

As I’ve now come to anticipate, there are guidelines to creating this specific delicacy. “I don’t use any old crap,” she insists. “Sardinian honey only! Shiny, white and soft.” However of all of the sweets stacked in her store, those that catch my eye are her aranzate: shiny orange tangles sitting like birds’ nests in inexperienced paper instances.

“I slice off the peel and cut off the pith, and then I prick the skin immediately,” Bastiana explains. “If you don’t, it can’t soak up the water and will go as hard as a rock.” She tells me that she then scissors the peel into skinny strips and retains the orange strands in water for as much as three weeks to melt, earlier than freezing. She’ll take them out and add the honey — a kilo for each kilo of orange — and slowly bake within the oven, earlier than including bitter slivers of almonds grown round Oliena.

All this effort and talent doesn’t come low cost. Her sticky, citrusy bundles are the gold mud of dolci sardi at €40 (£36) a kilo. “They’re expensive, so we’ll mostly eat these at weddings. They’re not a dolce that everyone does,” Bastiana explains. All of the sudden the aranzate style all of the extra candy.

That night in Pula, a city south of Cagliari, a festa is underway. This time, nevertheless, I’ve succumbed to the savoury — the pizza in entrance of me, strewn with Sardinian ham and pecorino, is the saltiest factor I’ve eaten in days. Round me, the Piazza del Popolo is bursting with individuals; music blaring from the DJ on the edge of the sq.. On the opposite aspect, there’s a pair in a white gazebo. ‘Torrone di Tonara’ reads the banner behind them, as they promote their cellophane-wrapped sweets.

I’m naturally tempted, however I keep in mind to tempo myself. Sluggish and regular. If there’s one factor I’ve discovered right here, there’s all the time room for dessert.

Discover ways to make Fratelli Marteddu ciambelle biscuits right here.

@connorjmcgovern

As featured in Concern three of National Geographic Traveller Meals.

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