Honey meets Pecorino Cheese: The Sardinian Sebadas

Set in the middle of the western Mediterranean sea, Sardinia is an unspoiled Island with a very ancient gastronomic tradition. From very early on, this beautiful land has been ruled by explorers from many European countries such as Greece, France, and Spain. Over the centuries, all its settlers have given their own contribution to diversify and enrich Sardinian food culture.

As in most Mediterranean regions, Sardinian cuisine is characterized by old wisdom with humble yet rich ingredients that has not changed over time and is still handed down from mother to daughter. The inhabitants of this region have maybe the longest life expectancy than anywhere else in the world: such longevity may be due to the island’s very healthy lifestyle. Sardinia is an earthly paradise for people who love fresh, in-season ingredients from the Mediterranean area. Though Sardinia's coastline stretches for 1800 kilometres, Sardinians are a people of inland shepherds and farmers. Sardinian cooking habits show its people's sobriety: luckily, Sardinian dishes have not been overwhelmed by industrialisation. The cuisine of the island revolves mainly around a handful of very simple ingredients which are still made with artisan methods: pasta, bread, olive oil, wine, sweets, and, especially, cheese. Indeed, nothing represents Sardinian gastronomic culture better than Pecorino, the sheeps cheese which is the symbol of Sardinia in the world. The region has been inextricably associated with sheep farming since the first people appeared there. The Nuraghe cilivisation was ruled by the king shepherd, an equal among equals, in a society in which private property of the land did not exist.

Pecorino is a versatile cheese that can be tasted in many different dishes: it can be roasted and consumed in its crunchiness, employed in soups, stews, and small ravioli, used for grating on first courses. or employed as a delicious ingredient for the preparation of famous traditional sweets.
Eggs, sugar, honey, ground almonds, flour and a touch of orange flowers and saffron are the main ingredients of more than a hundred diverse types of Sardianian desserts. There certainly is a cake for every palate in Sardian repertoire. Pardulas are little pastry cakes of sweetened farmer's cheese. Bianchittus are crisp white meringues. Pistoccheddus are prepared with flour, eggs and sugar, the latter with the addition of raisins.

One of the best-known and most appreciated desserts from Sardinia is Sebadas, a traditional fritter which pairs the sweetness of the honey with the saltiness of the Pecorino cheese, making for an intense peculiar flavour. The paste is made of flour, lard and salt, filled with fresh creamy sheep or goat cheese, semolina, orange zest and grated lemon-rind. Sebadas are traditionally served hot, poured with honey or sugar. The cooking process consists of mixing together the ingredients into the dough mass. The dough is then rolled out and cut into round disks. Each dough disk is then filled with filling mass (made of cheese, sugar, lemon rind, salt, olive oil and some flour) and covered with another disk. These sweets are then deep fried in in a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil until both sides are golden brown in colour, then any excess oil is drained off from the fritter, and Sebadas are sweetened with honey.

There are various versions of this recipe but we can distinguish two main kinds: one with cooked cheese and one with row cheese. Some recipes recommend putting the orange zest in the cheese mixture rather than on top of the fried pastry. Some don't add any sugar to the cheese mixture, and others do. Still others call for more mozzarella than ricotta, while others recommend more ricotta. Anyway, whichever recipe one follows, Sebadas make for an excellent sweet.

Sebadas originally were simple dishes of rural origin whose roots are buried deep in the ancient rustic tradition. As a cheese-based product the Sebada is typically associated with the countryside. While in the past Sardinian cheese pastry was eaten as main course, especially by the shepherds, nowadays a new interpretation has been given to this delicacy which is presently served as a dessert.

Sebadas originated from central and north-western Sardinia, two areas which are traditionally linked to sheep farming. In fact, they are a typical dish of sheepherding communities. They were made during the main religious festivals, when the farmers used to return home with their sheep after the long period spent out in the Sardinian pastures. They prepared fresh Pecorino cheese and when it had reached a suitable level of acidity, after about two days, it was employed for Sebadas.

Today, this popular delicacy is now served any time of the year. It is produced all over the island but is not easy to find inland. Sebadas are particularly tasty with certain Sardinian wines, red and white alike: Cannonau (red), Vermentino, Torbato, Semidano (white), and Campidano di Terralba (red and white).

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