Italy is blessed with one of the five so-called “Blue Zones” in the world. It is an area on the enchanting Island of Sardinia.
So, what exactly is a “Blue Zone”? An author named Dan Buettner studied the world over to find the highest concentrations of people who lived to be over one hundred years old. Centenarians, they’re called.
He zeroed in on five areas in the world where people live exceptionally long lives and studied each, realizing that they had several things in common, some that set each apart, and a few that are hard to measure, but very important.
The five regions are: An Eastern area of Sardinia, Italy concentrated in the provinces of Ogliastra and Nuoro, Ikaria in Greece, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, and Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.
Many common factors Mr. Buettner found were focused around diet, unsurprisingly. Eating fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and eating less over-all as well as drinking wine in moderation seem to be similar in these areas. Other factors are more lifestyle based, like activity level.
He found that these people are not pushing themselves physically on purpose, but they incorporate a high level of activity into their lifestyle. Climbing stairs, walking several miles a day, working with their hands, and caring for animals tends to be their way of life rather than a trip to the gym.
To me the most interesting thing he found was that all of these people share a strong sense of purpose, belong to a close, faith-based community, and spend lots of time with loved ones, both family and friends. For Sardinia in particular, he mentions the daily tradition of gathering to laugh with friends over a glass of wine. Just the thought of that makes me smile.
These are not only healthy people, they’re happy too. Maybe not CEOs, often simply shepherds or farmers, but their lives are full.
Having visited and fallen in love with this particular area of Sardinia before I knew the first thing about a “Blue Zone”, I’m here to tell you, you can feel their contentment because it manifests itself in kindness.
During our first year of marriage, my mom had given my husband and I a tiny day by day calendar, and as I was getting ready for work one morning, I pulled off a page that would change my life. The color of the sea woke me before the coffee had a chance. "Sardinia", it said.
I carried that photo with me every day until we got there ourselves. Once we did, both our hearts were completely captured.
We were so enchanted upon arriving to our hotel that we leapt out of the car and ran inside to check in, forgetting to turn the lights off. Later that evening after a glorious day on the beach of Bari Sardo, we tried to run into town to find an ATM before our boat tour the following morning. We soon realized our mistake when the battery on the car was dead and so discovered the warmth and kindness of the people in Sardinia.
Having confessed our stupidity, soon the chef came out and shook our hands, “piacere”, he said. “Pleased to meet you.” Anywhere else in the world that would have been, “pleased to meet you, you idiots!”, but not here.
He beamed as we thanked him for pulling around his car and taking his time away from the kitchen to charge our battery. You can feel kindness as genuine as his, and we felt it from everyone we met. He shook our hands once more and then returned to the kitchen, the smell of the Sardinian cuisine wafting in his wake.
Sitting down to dinner that evening was extra special having met the man who prepared our meal. Culurgiones for me and a gorgeous fish platter for my husband. Out came the Cannonau wine and a basket of pane carasau. Our introduction to Sardinia, its beauty, kindness, and cuisine had surpassed our high expectations.
The next day on the boat tour, our eyes beheld beauty I cannot begin to describe. If God made anything more exquisite, He reserved it for Heaven. We dined in a cove of sparkling turquoise, and my eyes fill with tears remembering the beauty and our chef, who after feeding us, fed scraps of fish to the seagulls by hand. They were our constant companions that day.
All of these things described: the beauty, the food, the kindness, make this area unique. It is a region blessed with both sea and mountains, the perfect landscape and climate for many aspects of the famously healthy Mediterranean diet.
Fish from the sea, meats and cheeses from local farms and free roaming sheep and goats give the island its delicious cuisine and much of its charm.
Sardinia’s shepherd culture means an abundance of incredible cheeses like the famous Pecorino Sardo, (enjoyed on its own and incorporated into many dishes), and also breads that are made to keep for a long time. Pane carasau is a flat, crispy bread and arguably the most famous in Sardinia. Also called Carta di Musica (music paper), the bread is so thin and crispy that it is very resistant to mold, so it sustains the shepherds for days and weeks without spoiling.
Sardinia is also home to Cannonau wine, which is thought to contribute to the longevity of the people here. Its high levels of antioxidants, (according to a Mr. Buettner, it contains over 3 times the polyphenols of any other wine) and excellent flavor has earned it world-wide fame.
We went to visit our favorite winery, Argiolas, last time we were there. It is in a tiny town called Serdiana in the hills north of Cagliari.
Our guide showed us around with the pride like a new mother has for her child, pointing out the antique equipment the original wine maker had used, and telling us who he was as much as what he did. He was so passionate about his wines and land that he worked until the day he died.
As our friendly guide poured the delicious wines and walked us through the tasting, paired with pane carasau, Pecorino Sardo, local honey and olives, it was clear that not only is the food and wine good here, but life is good here. People are good here. Hearts are genuine and kind here. No wonder they live so long.
There are no words to express what Sardinia means to me or the depth of my love for the island and its people.
If you’d like to try a dish authentic to this area, culurgiones pasta is my favorite. It takes a bit of patience, but hey, it’s the weekend! Why not have some fun cooking with your loved ones, just like those centenarians in Sardinia!
Culurgiones: Fresh pasta filled with potatoes, Pecorino Sardo, and mint leaves in a red sauce.
Make your pasta dough, recipe depending on how much you want to make, but make the dough with flour and water, no egg.
Peel your potatoes and cut them into small cubes.
Boil until soft, you need to mash them.
At the same time, choose your favorite Mia Emilia Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and heat it with a clove of crushed garlic. You want to lightly fry the garlic in the oil to infuse its flavor. Just a few minutes will do, then remove the garlic.
Mash the potatoes and mix in this garlic infused olive oil.
Finely grate the Pecorino Sardo (if you can’t find Pecorino Sardo, use whatever pecorino cheese you can find).
Chop up the mint leaves.
Combine the potatoes and olive oil with the cheese and mint and mix well, this will be your filling.
Roll the dough out so it’s thin, but not too thin, it needs to hold together without ripping.
Cut it into circles with a tall water glass, the size works nicely.
Fill each circle with the potato, mint, cheese filling.
You will want to watch some videos of how to close the culurgiones, as it is a bit tricky. You pinch together one side, then the other until you have pinched both sides closed.
Boil until they float, and they’re done.
For the Sauce:
Start with your favorite Mia Emilia Olive Oil and slowly fry finely chopped onion, celery and carrot for five to ten minutes.
Add in your canned San Marzano tomatoes and let simmer while you do the rest of the work on the pasta.
For a truly authentic experience, enjoy with a glass of Cannonau wine! And, as they say in Sardinia, "A chent annos", may you live 100 years!