Take a stroll down any grocery store pasta aisle, and the choices seem endless. Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes from angel hair to the bowtie. This boxed pasta, from either a large company like Barilla or small mom-and-pop operations, have been a staple in grocery stores for years. Such a seemingly simple product that only requires boiling and a few ingredients to make a delicious meal, has a long and tasty history.
Italians have been making handmade pasta for centuries and one pasta, in particular, stands as the rarest and most difficult in the world – Su Filindeu.
Nuoro, Italy, is a small, interior village off the coast of Sardinia that is home to a closely-guarded culinary secret. Su Filindeu pasta has been a family tradition for the women of the Abraini family. After 300 years of passing the tedious pasta, there remain only three women who have mastered the frustrating process: Paolo Abraini, her sister-in-law and her niece. Not to be left out are the attempts by others to watch, learn and replicate.
Barilla pasta sent engineers to her home in an attempt to replicate the pasta for mass-production. What they quickly found out was that no machine could replicate the process that produces sheets of pasta half as thick as angel hair stacked and dried in three cross-hatched layers. Then Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Foods International – a company with a mission to preserve culinary traditions from all over the world – visited. Next came celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. He desired to learn how to make the secret dish, but after two hours of failed attempts he gave up.
Dating back to the 1800s, only those who complete the 33km pilgrimage from Nuoro to Lula are allowed to enjoy this dish. Their destination is the biannual Feast of San Francesco, and over 1,500 pilgrims make the trek each time. Pilgrims to the Feast of San Francesco enjoy this rare pasta prepared in sheep’s broth with pecorino cheese. The Su Filindeu tradition origin is unclear but what is certain is that the dish is a staple of the feast.
Semolina dough is made using only three ingredients: semolina wheat, water, and salt. The process requires pulling and folding strands by hand until there are 256 identical fibers. Using only elbow grease and years of experience with understanding the dough, the maker then places the strands diagonally across a circular form. Worked by hand until it resembles the texture of molding clay, the pasta dough is then ready for the delicate art that produces the unique strands. Going only on feel and years of experience, Paolo either adds salt-water for more elasticity or regular water for moisture. The dough is then rolled into cylindrical shapes. Each cylinder is then stretched and folded eight times. With each fold, the two heads are pressed together in her palms, and at the end, she is left with 256 delicately thin strands. When enough dough has been expertly stretched to form three layers on the circular base, she trims the edges and places it in the sun to dry.
What is unsettling to culinary followers and pilgrims to the Feast of San Francesco is the possibility that this tradition may be lost forever. With only three people in possession of the knowledge and passion to create it, the secret may be lost soon. Paolo’s daughters show no motivation to learn and the other two women in her family have not been able to find successors. No pasta recipe in the world is made by so few people which makes Su Filindeu not only the rarest but the most endangered.
You do not have to travel to a small town in Italy to experience exceptional pasta though. Do you find yourself wondering “is there Italian food near me“? Of all the Phoenix downtown restaurants, Noodle Bar PHX consistently produces the best noodle dishes in the area. Ranging from Japanese to Italian, other restaurants in downtown Phoenix fall short when it comes to authenticity and taste. https://www.noodlebarphx.com