On a recent trip to Sardinia we visited an agriturismo in the hills above Tempio Pausania. Admittedly we didn’t get to see much of the countryside due to the insane rain – it dumped thirteen centimetres in one day, which was quite spectacular. As we had gone on a ‘sunsnack’ we’d left our wellies behind so there was nothing to do but eat. The family that ran the farm made dinner for the guests. There was no menu, just a series of dishes delivered to the table, all washed down with a jug of the local wine. I enjoy these surprise menus – I love being fed!
Our dinner began with a brushetta of artichokes, grilled courgettes and smoked ricotta, followed with delicious minestrone, then grilled pecorino or the farm’s own beef with tomatoes and rocket. The dessert was a tiramisu made with fresh creamy ricotta chased with a shot of the local myrtille liqueur. I have no photos! we were so busy eating we didn’t notice until the plates were nearly empty
The minestrone famous in Sardinia, is also known as longevity soup as it’s a staple in the small villages where the people grow their own veggies and often live to become one hundred. I checked it out when I got home and Sardinia is one of the five places in the world where people live so long – this is along with Ikana in Greece, Nocaya Peninsular in Costa Rica, Okinawa in Japan and Loma Linda in California where the Seventh day Adventists live.
One thing that all these places have in common is that they principally eat very little meat but plenty of locally grown vegetables.
This minestrone, which is particular to Sardinia, is made with whatever is in the garden – onions, celery, carrots, fennel etc. and beans. They could be fava beans, cannelini, borlotti or chickpeas. The version we ate had chickpeas and borlotti beans and also what looked like rice but was in fact orzo or riso pasta. It was served with grated Pecorino, the local sheep cheese, on the side but Parmesan would do the job too if you haven’t Pecorino.
It’s the kind of soup that you could live on – nourishing, tasty and cheap, and who knows maybe become one hundred!
1 large onion
3-4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 small bulb fennel
2-3 stems celery
1 large potato
6-7 cabbage leaves
2 ripe tomatoes
300g cooked chickpeas or 1 can, rinsed
300g cooked borlotti beans, or 1 can rinsed
1200 mls vegetable stock
100g orzo, riso or for g/f use rice
a handful chopped parsley
a handful chopped basil
grated Pecorino or Parmesan to serve
Peel and chop the onion. Heat a largish saucepan and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Stir in the onions and cook on a medium heat.
Trim the fennel and the celery and chop into small pieces. Add to the onions and stir.
Peel the carrot and dice into roughly 1cm pieces.
Peel the potato and chop into slightly bigger pieces.
Stir into the onion mix. Season with a little salt and keep cooking but don’t let the veggies brown.
Wash the cabbage leaves and remove any large stem. Stack the leaves on top of each other then roll up into a big cigar and chop into ribbons. Stir into the pot
Peel and chop the garlic then stir into the pot.
Roughly chop the tomatoes into small pieces then add to the pot.
Keep cooking on a gentle heat until the tomatoes break down then stir in the borlotti beans, chickpeas and vegetable stock.
Bring the soup to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper and add the orzo/riso or rice. Cook for a further 12-15 minutes. Check the seasoning and allow the soup to stand for ten minutes before serving.
Serve with grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese on the side.
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