The tabarchina cuisine is definitely a tasty one, but also interesting for the originality of its dishes, cooked in time-honored ways. Tuna has always been both the pride and livelihood of the Tabarchina culture, and the famous cuisine of Carloforte reflects the islanders’ origins and the social and economic development that has occurred over time.
On Carloforte, food is good. More than an assertion, it is almost an axiom. Visitors who have tasted it know, and those who have never been to the town have heard from the news and by word of mouth from those who have been here. But it is not only the delicacy of the dishes that have made Carloforte famous and renowned for its cuisine: it is their originality and unique special ingredients. In Carloforte you can enjoy some foods that you could not taste anywhere else, because they can't be found outside the island: various preparations of tuna entrails, or the special Carloforte couscous knows as casca’, or the peculiar gallette marinare, a type of cracker that sailors and fisherman used to eat. Below you will find a little "taste" of the delicious gastronomy of Carloforte.
The restaurateurs of Carloforte have a great advantage over all others, with so many different kinds of delicious tuna appetizers, all different in their unique and sublime tastes. They range from tuniña, which is tuna meat preserved under salt, the bütàiga (tuna roe) prepared by expert tuna fishermen, the cö (heart) and the musciamme (tuna steak), both preserved in salt and then sundried. The figatellu is a very particular dish, composed of tuna milt that can be enjoyed boiled or formed into meatballs. All of these dishes are very characteristic of the island, a delight for the palate, and difficult to find anywhere but Carloforte.
The bélu is the preserved tuna stomach sun-dried with salt. It is one of the most exclusive dishes that Carloforte can offer, and also the most appreciated and sought after by gourmets. Originally, the Bélu was considered a complete meal. Its preparation requires some time, because you have to let it soak to remove excess salt and soften it before cooking. Then it is cooked in boiling water for almost an hour, drained, cut into strips and sautéed in a pan with olive oil and onion, after which fresh tomatoes and chili peppers are added (for those who like it spicy!). When the flavors are well blended, potatoes are added and cooked thoroughly. The result is a delicious dish, with a unique and unforgettable taste.
Its etymology is uncertain, as its origin is unknown. The bòbba is a traditional Carloforte soup consisting of dried fava beans that are soaked and then slowly simmered with vegetables: finely chopped potato, cauliflower or zucchini, and garlic cloves, and seasoned with good olive oil. You get a creamy but not very dense soup with a characteristic and inimitable taste. Sometimes it is served with slices of toast. The bòbba is one of those dishes of humble origins that, once considered a staple for the poor, is now appreciated by all lovers of good food.
It is the sweet most associated with Carloforte. Made with a mixture of flour, lard, sugar, egg yolks, baking powder and vanilla, the canestrelli have a donut shape: a circular ring with a diameter of 10-12 cm, baked in the oven. After baking, a glaze is spread on top, (Cappa) made with beaten egg white and sugar. To complete the recipe, the canestrelli need a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top. The canestrelli, whose name may derive from the sailors’ term, "canestrello”, which is a wooden ring used to equip the sails, are sweets that last for a long time and often are eaten dipped in wine or Muscat. The same basic recipe is used for all the traditional sweets made for children: la luña (the Moon), for Palm Sunday, the cavagnetti for Easter, the pe de porcu for All Saints Day and fantiña for Christmas.
The cascà is the typical couscous of the island, and together with tuna fish, this dish is the prince and symbol of the Carloforte cuisine. First, because it is a historical dish and recalls the time spent by the ancestors of the Carlofortinians on the island of Tabarca, in Tunisia, where they lived for almost two centuries. Second, because the preparation of cascà requires the gestures, nearly a ritual, transmitted from mother in daughter. Such as the ”arundiò" or "sémmua", the name for the motions involved in working the semolina flour with circular movements of the hand, keeping the fingers slightly apart and the palm raised, moistening it now and then with water and a little oil before the final preparation.
Finally, it must be said that the Tabarchino Cascà, in accordance with its Maghrebian origins, is a convivial and festive dish and this is one reason why it is prepared in large quantities: its consumption is often extended to the "enlarged" family (grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc.). The cascà, because of its ingredients, is a versatile dish. The differences are minimal and are due to the vegetables used as a condiment - leading to a distinction between winter and spring cascà / summer cascà - (a distinction no longer as clear as it once was, now that vegetables are available all year), and whether or not meat is included. In each case, the preparation of the semolina is the most important and most difficult part of preparing the dish. Once the semolina is ready, it's placed in the couscous pot, steamed, and then the previously prepared meats, seasonings, chickpeas, cabbage, peas, and various vegetables are added.
It's a thin, long (30/40 cm), curved and twisted cucumber, characteristic of the Maghreb. The seeds were taken from the tabarchini settlers, brought to Carloforte and transplanted in the island gardens. This vegetable, along with many other foods of the island cuisine, is an acknowledgment of the theory of the great anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss's that stated that the cooking of a community is the mirror of its culture and history. The facussa cucumber, fakûs in Arabic, has a fresh and delicate flavor, it's a common ingredient of summer salads especially with tuna, but the vegetable is also eaten alone as a fruit. This vegetable is very difficult to find except in Carloforte.
This is what the people of Carloforte call the farinata (an unleavened pancake made of chickpea flour), a typical Genovese dish, a legacy of ancient origin, eaten in Carloforte. It consists of chickpea flour well mixed with water, oil and salt. The mixture is set on tinned copper pans, preferably round, and baked for about fifteen minutes. Like in Genoa, the farinata is bought in the pizzerias, is served on a wrapper of paper and it is considered a typical street food.
In ancient times the farinata was prepared by home cooks and sold on the street as they did in Liguria. In Sardinia, in addition to Carloforte, Fainò is found in Sassari where a Genovese family imported it in the twentieth century.
The Galetta can be considered the bread of the sailors. This sea biscuit comes from the tradition of the Ligurian seamen. It is made with flour, water, salt, yeast and lard. Gallette are baked twice to make them crisper and are packaged in a round shape, roughly the size of a CD and no thicker than 1 cm. They can last for a couple of months without spoiling. Often before consuming a galletta, they are soaked in water as when preparing the capunadda, a kind of panzanella (salad), made of soaked gallette, tomatoes, facusse cucumbers and various types of tuna fish, in particular, the tuniña (salted tuna fish, in particular) all seasoned with oil, vinegar, pepper and basil. In Carloforte is easy to buy galette; every bakery has them available.
Pastissu in the tabarchino dialect means "mess". And to be honest, it's a mess at the very least for the variety of recipes with which this dish, based on fresh hand-made pasta, can be made. The pasta used must be rigorously the ones that belong to the most rooted culinary tradition of Carloforte: the casulli (a sort of homemade gnocchi), the curzétti (a form of orecchiette), and the macaruin (macaroni). These three varieties of pasta can be mixed in the same recipe, or combined in different proportions. The pasta sauce must be a pesto made with the addition of tuna. This meal is a true delicacy of the island.
Tuna can be considered the king of the island cuisine. Every part of it is cooked in a thousand ways and a thousand sauces, with simple and ancient methods. Tuna is the main ingredient for many dishes, many delicious and unique flavors that can be found only in Carloforte. One of the most frequently used ways to The part of the fish that is best suited for the preparation of this dish is the cüdélla, which is located almost near the tail. After being cut into slices or cubes, the tuna is lightly fried and drained. It is then sauteed with the addition of a little vinegar. Bay leaves and a glass of wine are added, and when the wine is reduced to a glaze the dish is ready. Another very simple preparation for the tuna is to put it to boil in very salty water; just a few years ago, people used sea water. It can be served immediately seasoned with oil, surrounded by tomatoes or boiled potatoes and beans, or kept in glass jars covered with olive oil.
After tasting tuna prepared in this way you will notice the difference in taste, compared to the kind that you can buy at the supermarket and from that moment on you’ll never be able to go back to the “conventional” tuna.
Carloforte’s cuisine obviously does not end here. Many other dishes and many other sauces are equal to those described above. It is impossible to list them all, but before ending this short list, perhaps it's worth recalling a couple of typical dishes. The gurézi, which is the esophagus of the tuna cooked in a pan, or siaule piñe, onions stuffed with breadcrumbs, potatoes, cheese and eggs and the dried stockfish and salt codfish that today can be found on the table of many Carlofortinians. Frequently, in times past, it was a main presence in the mess halls of the sailors - more for practicality than for taste.
Finally worth mentioning is the agiadda, a simple and quick sauce, made of garlic, tomatoes, and vinegar, used for additional flavor on fried fish.