Su Succu – a saffron and cheese pasta dish from Sardinia

Su Succu – a saffron and cheese pasta dish from Sardinia

Everything about this pasta dish is unusual: it’s colour, the ingredients, and also the way it’s cooked – which is most un Italian. It’s difficult to be prescriptive about it because the quantities needed are all variable and depend on the other; what’s required is an experienced eye. This is a dish for confident cooks who don’t rely on recipes. For about 6 people you will need:

The stock

Traditionally, the dish is based on a mutton stock. This is because sheep are the most common farm animal in Sardinia. Nowadays, with increasing wealth, cooks have started mixing in other meat like beef and chicken. Sun dried tomatoes and and woody herbs like bay leaf and thyme are also used to make the stock.

Italians tend not to brown the bones, but use fresh meat. Personally I prefer to give everything a blast in the oven before simmering it.

You will need a couple of litres of a good meat stock, made the way you like it. Keep some in reserve in case you need to add a bit more at the end of cooking.

The pasta

The pasta itself is nameless – it’s called the pasta for su succu – and it uses semola flour and warm water. I’ve come across recipes where one egg is added for every kilo of flour, but Maria and Peppina are firmly of the view the egg is not the correct way to make the pasta. Make the dough and leave it to rest – this is an important step. Then use a pasta machine to create tagliolini width ribbons. Spread it out on a tray or tablecloth to dry for 12 hours or so.

Start with 600g of flour –  you can always freeze the excess.

The cheese

Primo sale pecorino. The youngest freshest cheese possible – think mizithra cheese if you are familiar with Greek cooking. Feta is too salt. You’ll need it crumbled and sliced – probably around 400g.

The saffron

a decent pinch, ground and dissolved in hot water.

The cooking dish

This needs to be wide, made of earthenware (a deep casserole shape about 30cms in diameter) and be capable of being cooked over an open flame.

So once you’ve brought all these things together, bring the stock to a simmer and alternate handfuls of grated cheese with bird’s nest quantities of pasta. Keep going until the casserole is full and then add a layer of thinly sliced pecorino to cover the top. Spoon over the saffron liquid. Cover and leave to simmer for about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and leave the pasta to absorb the stock and cool down. Keep checking – you may need to add a bit of stock if it looks too dry. It shouldn’t be soupy either.

Serve at room temperature.

If you make it, let me know how you get on!