Threads of God

Twice a year, pilgrims in Sardinia trek from the city of Nuoro to the village of Lula at night.  The walk in solidarity without sleep or rest – sometimes by the hundreds, often by the thousands.  They make the 20-mile trip to the Santuario di San Francesco to eat the rarest pasta in the world.

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 Su Filindeu, literally “threads of God” in Sardo, is made by only three women on earth – all of whom live in Sardinia.  It is made only for the biannual Feast of San Francesco.  It has been so for the last 200 years.

The ingredients are basic:  semolina wheat, water and salt.  It is served with mutton broth and pecorino cheese.  Although it sounds simple, making the pasta is very difficult.  Engineers from the Barilla pasta company attempted, unsuccessfully, to build a machine that could reproduce the technique.  Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver visited Sardinia in hopes of mastering the noodle and gave up.

Paola Abraini, one of the masters of su filindeu, says the hardest part is “understanding the dough with your hands.”  She kneads the mixture until it eels like modeling clay, then continues working it into rounded strands.  When the semolina lacks elasticity, she dips her fingers in a bowl of salt water.  When it needs moisture, unsalted water does the trick.  The balance, says Abraini, “can take years to understand.”

When the consistency reaches perfection, Abraini stretches the dough, doubling it again and again.  After eight rounds of layering, she’s left with 256 delicate strands resting in her hands.  She gingerly stretches the fine threads over a circular wooden frame, crisscrossing three layers of noodles over one another.  Then, leaving the su filindeu to dry in the sun, Abrainin repeats the process.

You can try this pasta only in Sardinia during the Feast of San Francesco on May 1st and October 4th.

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