What Is Su Filindeu Pasta?
Widely regarded as the rarest pasta on earth, su filindeu - “the threads of God” - is the stuff of legends.
The story goes that for over 300 years, only the women of a single family based in the remote town of Nuoro in the Barbagia region of Sardinia know the secret to making this unfathomably intricate pasta.
Like all the best stories, we have a feeling that it may have been embellished a little over the years, but we're hopeless romantics when it comes to culinary folklore so we’re quite happy to swallow the fable hook, line and sinker.
No-one really knows how or why this one-of-a-kind pasta came to be. All we know is that it costs more per kilo than lobster and chateaubriand combined. That's quite something for a foodstuff made from nothing more than semolina, water and salt.
Su filindeu is traditionally only eaten twice a year - May 1st and October 4th - when pilgrims trek 20-miles on foot and horseback under the cover of darkness to the isolated village of Lula to celebrate the Feast of San Francesco.
On arrival, they are welcomed with a piping hot bowl of the legendary pasta which is served with a deep, savoury mutton broth and slightly acidic fresh pecorino cheese.
A trip to Sardinia to eat this iconic dish is at the very top of our foodie bucket list, but until we make it there we have to rely on our own su filindeu recipe in which we try to replicate what the visitors to Lula are greeted with.
How to make su filindeu
Despite being the world's rarest pasta, the truth is that the ingredients and method are no great secret. The modest women who still make it insist the only secret is in their hands and fingers. The magic, they say, is knowing exactly when the gluten in the dough has reached the perfect amount of elasticity for it to be pulled and stretched, over and over again without breaking.
The dough is firstly well kneaded. There's always two bowls within easy reach, one filled with plain water, the other with heavily salted water. The artisan will often dip her fingers in one of the bowls and touch the dough to help create the texture she's after. Which bowl to use, how much water to take and when to do it is not something that can be taught. It has to be sensed by the maker.
It is, quite simply, intuitive cooking in its purest form.
Once the dough is to her liking, she rolls it into a long, thin sausage shape. She then picks it up from both ends, stretches it until her arms are fully extended and then loops and connects the two ends to create two strands. Those strands are then stretched using the same technique, then looped and reconnected to create four strands. This is repeated another six times until she ends up with 256 insanely thin, but perfectly even strands.
These are then layered in three different directions on a circular tray called a fundu which is traditionally woven from the leaves of the asphodel plant that grows locally. Once dried in the Sardinian sun, the pasta is transformed into a unique, translucent, lattice-type structure which resembles threads of silk more than it does pasta. It is so thin and fragile that it shatters easily and takes only minutes to cook.
The future of su filindeu
Once, the world's biggest pasta company, Barilla, sent a team of engineers to Sardinia to learn the secrets so that they could bring out a machine-made, mass produced version. They failed.
Jamie Oliver, the classically trained celebrity chef who learnt Italian cooking from none other than Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo (and who once owned 42 Italian restaurants) had to admit defeat when he visited Paola Abraini - one of the only three women who have perfected the craft.
It is said that the younger generation of girls and young women in the town are far more interested in Instagram than learning a laborious technique which can take years to perfect. As a result of its rarity, su filindeu is included in the Ark of Taste, a list collated by Slow Food International to try and counteract the disappearance of local foods and culture.
Thankfully the process has been documented on film many times, most famously by the Italian food and drink publisher, Gambero Rosso. They wanted to record the process due to the very real risk that this style of pasta could be in danger of becoming extinct.