A lot of adjectives come to mind when you think of something like the Golden Fleece from Greek mythology, or King Arthur’s sword Excalibur – legendary, mythical and reverential are some of the initial few. Now, you’d be hard pressed to think of the culinary counterpart of these fabled items, but if you travel to Sardinia, you might come close.
No, we’re not talking about some kind of famed sardines, we’re talking about su filindeu a.k.a. the rarest damn pasta in the whole wide world.
Su filindeu literally means ‘the threads of God’, and considering only three people in the world know how to make it according to the BBC, that’s not very surprising. 62-year-old Paola Abraini, her niece and her sister-in-law are apparently the only people who can still make this diamond of a pasta, and they all reside in the town of Nuoro in Sardinia. Most others who prepare this dish seem to be making a variation of the original recipe.
In fact, the Abraini family has been passing this pasta down from daughter to daughter for 300 years, and until recently, the recipe was a pretty diligently guarded secret.
According to Paola, there are 3 main ingredients – semolina wheat, water and salt. The pasta is made by consistently pulling and folding the semolina dough into 256 (!) thin strands using your fingers, after which it is stretched diagonally across a circular frame in a three-layer pattern. It’s then dried, broken and finally placed in boiling sheep’s broth with grated pecorino to be served only to the faithful who have completed a pilgrimage from Nuoro to the village of Lula for the biannual Feast of San Francesco
For all intents and purposes, Paolo Abraini can be called a su filindeu maestro, as watching her prepare this complex and intricate dish can be quite an intense, almost magical experience.
Engineers have even visited her to try and reproduce this technique using a machine, but to no avail. “This is one of the most at-risk foods of becoming extinct, in large part because it’s one of the most difficult pastas to make that exists,” says Raffaella Ponzio, head coordinator of Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste. He’s not exactly exaggerating either. This pasta is literally an endangered culinary species, and one that truly needs to be protected, not just out of respect for tradition, but out of love for taste.
In case you’re in the mood to watch this pasta pundit weave some of her delicious magic, here’s a little video from Channel 4 below!