THE TABLE: Sardinia — island off the Italian mainland

Located south of the French island of Corsica, the Italian island of Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Cagliari is the capital and the largest city on the island. The island is divided into four provinces. Italian and Sardinian, as well other languages and dialects are spoken.

The climate of Sardinia is somewhat diversified. Summers are hot and almost rainless. If it does rain, there are short severe thunderstorms. The heaviest rain falls in the autumn and winters with light showers in the spring. Snow is known to fall in the highlands. Due to ocean currents, cyclones are not uncommon. In 2013, a cyclone named Cleopatra hit with 18 inches of rain falling within 1½ hours.

Sardinia is one of the most ancient civilizations in Europe. Through the centuries, waves of immigrants have called the island home under many different dynasties.

During World War II, air and naval bases were situated on the island. It is a little over 200 miles between Sardinia and mainland Italy. It was heavily bombed by the Allies, especially the capital area. German troops retreated in September of 1943. In 1946, Italy became a republic by popular referendum.

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Today, the economy of Sardinia is one of the best in Italy. Due to the global financial crisis, unemployment has been on the rise.

The island has three international airports, connecting to Europe and beyond. Ferries are one of the major connections within the island and to the mainland. There are developed roadways. Public transportation reaches every town and village. A few very small villages are only reached by car.

Sardinian culture and heritage are deeply embedded in the people. Traditional dress varies throughout the island by each town and village. Music is of major importance of day-to-day life, including, of course, the Italian opera.

Italy offers two cuisines — southern and northern. Due to the proximity to Switzerland, Austria and France, northern cuisine lends itself to cream sauces, polenta, butter and rolled meats, whereas southern cuisine features tomato sauce, olive oil and fresh seafoods. Cheese it used in both cuisines. Olive oil is used in salads, cooking and for dipping.

Suckling pig and wild boar roasted on spits over an open fire are favorites. Mint and myrtle are herbs used a great deal along with garlic, basil and oregano. Let us not forget pasta, which seems to be the national dish of Sardinia and all of Italy.

Italian food is popular and has influenced dishes throughout the world. It has made a major impact on cooking in the United States. There are quite a few dishes thought to be Italian that are not truly so. The ever-popular spaghetti and meatballs is not served in Italy. Spaghetti and meatballs are served in two different courses. Many authentic Italy dishes are adapted to American taste. Take pizza for instance — originally a peasant dish in Italy, it has become iconic in the U.S. There are many toppings and thicknesses from which to choose.

There are about 50 different pasta shapes to choose from — homemade or store purchased, fresh or dried (hard). A few of my favorites are Gigli, orecchiette, radiator and fusilli as they hold the sauces into their nooks and crannies. When cooking pasta, remember to salt the water and to not add olive oil to pasta water — oil makes it difficult for the sauce to stick to the pasta.

May I address the controversy of tomato sauce vs. tomato gravy — tomato gravy is when you add meat to the sauce. Tomato sauce is just that — no meat added.

Bruschetta is a starter dish (antipasto) for any meal. It is made with grilled bread rubbed with garlic, topped with olive oil and traditionally topped with tomato and basil. Variations of toppings are cheese, vegetables, beans and cured meat. A great treat is to spread jam or jelly onto grilled bread before adding other ingredients. It is great to make ahead of time for parties.

PASTA CARBONARA

A favorite in both North and South regions

1 lb. long spaghetti

¼ lb. bacon, cut in to pieces

3 eggs and 1 egg yolk

1 cup Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, shredded

1 tbsp. olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and fry bacon until crispy and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine three whole eggs plus one egg yolk. Stir in the cheese and set aside. Cook spaghetti in abundant boiling salted water. Drain, reserving some of the water. In another large pot, combine and toss spaghetti, eggs and bacon mixtures over low heat. Make sure spaghetti is coated throughout the mixture. Add salt and some pasta water for a creamy texture. Toss. Remove from heat. Cook the eggs with the heat from the spaghetti not over the heat. Top with fresh ground black pepper and additional grated cheese. Should be served immediately while hot.

PASTA e FAGIOLI

Pasta and beans. Better left over, especially the next day.

1 lb. small shaped pasta (two shapes best)

¼ lb. bacon

¼ cup chopped parsley

¼ cup chopped celery

1 medium onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, chop with fork

1 (19 oz.) can cannellini beans

Cook pasta in rolling boil water for approximately for six minutes. Drain. Save pasta water for later. Set both water and pasta aside. Fry bacon; don’t drain. Fry onions until soft and brown with bacon grease. Add parsley, celery and, with the liquid, the tomatoes and cannellini beans. Blend everything together in a large pot; mix in the cooked pasta. Simmer over very low heat for about one hour. Use the reserved pasta water to keep mixture moist and soupy wet to your preference.

CELEBRATE LIFE EVERY DAY!

Let me hear from you: banjack303@verizon.net. Search YouTube for “Look Who’s Cooking with Bette Banjack,” as well phoenixvillenews.com (search bar: Banjack) for this column. Find Bette on Facebook by searching “Bette Banjack’s Downtown Kitchen.”