Casa Puddu, the beauty of Italy

A visit to Roberto Petzaĺs S'Apposentu: fantastic food, praiseworthy staff, brave project. A format worth following

14-07-2017

S'Apposentu di Casa Puddu, with Roberto Petza in Siddi, Marmilla, in the inland of Sardinia (photo Tommaso Malfanti)

 

Roberto Petza is a solitary giant, a visionary with a sense of reality, a model for all. He’s a man, before being a great chef: real, passionate, determined, brave, with an aware courage that sometimes must leave place to pessimism, in the daily meeting with the difficulties of an almost titanic enterprise, with huge conscience and civil value. People say, often amiss, how about institutions? Well, in this case they should really support the project, follow the – even entrepreneurial – activity that acts as a pacer for a possible rebirth of a beautiful and wretched land, rich of opportunities, but with a deserted economy due to foolish ideas (ridiculous industrialization, welfare plague) and demographic downfall.

Roberto Petza in the photo by Alessandro Congiu

Roberto Petza in the photo by Alessandro Congiu

The dining room at S'Apposentu in a photo by Pietro Pio Pitzalis

The dining room at S'Apposentu in a photo by Pietro Pio Pitzalis

It was made older by the lack of generational change due not only to students leaving, but also to workers and talents in general; with 65% young people in unemployment. So basically the heritage of knowledge and flavours, of artisanal skills and rural culture that were typical of the local farmers and the shepherd tradition is at risk if not already lost. It’s not just food: if Marmilla – this is the name of this part of the Sardinian inland, far away from everything, including tourists; it’s named after its soft, breast resembling hills – has a chance to be immediately redeemed, this comes with a name: that of a chef.

We slept at Sa domu de tzia Ernesta, a cosy hotel created by Petza a few metres from Casa Puddu

We slept at Sa domu de tzia Ernesta, a cosy hotel created by Petza a few metres from Casa Puddu

Every parable has its prophet; every prophet his disciple. At Casa Puddu, Petza’s guys collaborate with heart and soul, they joined the idea by choice or came across it by chance; in any case, they know they’re part of a small, resisting community that gives energy to a land that needs it desperately; which gives tenaciousness to a marginalised society that would be ready to give up, that risked accepting just to survive. Without any hope for the future.

The dining room staff at S'Apposentu: left to right Francesco Tuveri, Patrizia Atzori, Domenico Sanna, Martina Moreal (now at Cucina.eat), Rina Petza and Djime Sidibe 

The dining room staff at S'Apposentu: left to right Francesco Tuveri, Patrizia Atzori, Domenico Sanna, Martina Moreal (now at Cucina.eat), Rina Petza and Djime Sidibe 

There’s dining room man Domenico Sanna, who left his degree in Philosophy in the drawer to follow this project; he’s the factotum, the alter ego, the living proof that culture allows possibly difficult choices, but full of soul. There’s gentle and competent sommelier Francesco Tuveri.

Appetizer: Sheep tartare, mayonnaise, red pomegranate sauce, Venere rice chips and pork, Marinated prawns and salicornia

Appetizer: Sheep tartare, mayonnaise, red pomegranate sauce, Venere rice chips and pork, Marinated prawns and salicornia

There’s Djime Sidibe, a guy from Mali who, orphaned, fled his home while war and Al Qaeda were approaching, and arrived on a boat; Petza met him during a cooking class organised by the local authorities and the charity that had welcomed him in Cagliari. This is how it went: «There was a class, he was the one who paid the most attention, and was most scrupulous and careful. At the end I offered him a part-time job as a waiter. I was much criticised: “What, with all those young jobless Italians out there you hire him?”. What was I supposed to do if he was the best?». We’ve already told you this story, two and a half years ago: Djime, from war to S'Apposentu. Now he’s permanently at Siddi and presents products, wines and territory with the inspired look of someone who has always lived there and knows every stone, every grape like the back of his hand.

Oyster, onion sorbet, lettuce and sea lettuce and marinated turnip

Oyster, onion sorbet, lettuce and sea lettuce and marinated turnip

The result is almost a sense of derangement – which confirms the overall impression: Casa Puddu is a magical, unique microcosm – which increases when you notice some of the kitchen staff disappearing into the village, After work: they have oriental eyes, 100% Japanese (though Keita Shimomachi is no longer here, the new sous chef being Enrico Carta), you find them in a bar buying a beer, aliens who come from the other side of the world to discover what to them is obviously a treasure though locals perhaps find it hard to notice.

Eggs, onions, pancetta, potatoes and scorzone truffle from Laconi

Eggs, onions, pancetta, potatoes and scorzone truffle from Laconi

Mandarino grasso

Mandarino grasso

Petza, as we mentioned, has some difficult moments: «Here in Siddi everyone worked in Puddu’s pasta factory [the estate of this family is now the location for S’Apposentu]». They produced high quality pasta, then came the recession «and people were made redundant. Unemployment benefits made people lazy, however. Tips are not a stimulus to act. This village ended up being a place where if a tap breaks, it’s a problem because there are no more plumbers. There’s only a few workshop, that’s it». Until a few months ago the machinery in the pasta factory was still there, «untouched, perfectly functioning. It would have been great if we could start using it again, make pasta with ancient local wheat varieties». But it was dismantled.

«Marmilla is a land of pulses»: here’s Chickpea cream, mullet puttanesca, cheese gnocchi

«Marmilla is a land of pulses»: here’s Chickpea cream, mullet puttanesca, cheese gnocchi

Still, despite many obstacles, the project goes on. Today he has 21 employees, a manna. There’s the restaurant, the Accademia with its courses, Sa Scolla – the pizzeria with farm cuisine that Petza opened last year in Baradili, 84 inhabitants, the smallest village in Sardinia and one of the smallest in Italy, a 10 minutes’ drive from Siddi – and many more activities, like the public events in the squares where the chef tries to communicate with people. Most of all there’s a small network of suppliers, a real miniscule flavour district that is nicely growing around S’Apposentu.

Raviolini with Margherita onion, powdered onion, pepper sauce and pecorino

Raviolini with Margherita onion, powdered onion, pepper sauce and pecorino

And here he comes, an optimist and determined Petza: «I have a relationship with earth in my DNA. When I decided to work in the countryside [S’Apposentu moved from Cagliari in 2010] I had to think of a local cuisine for the local area, making myself at the disposal of a poor, knackered area like this one, with a destroyed economy. This ethical choice came naturally».

Six years ago, he says, the last elderly people here were cultivating land as a hobby and for their own consumption. There were no professional farmers. «Today there are 2 or 3, after they realised the restaurant offered a real opportunity. They farm what we want and how we want it. This is the right choice for our future. We must stop supporting industries that don’t work, help business men who discover we exist only when it’s time to ask for (public) money and then disappear as fast as they appeared in the first place. All this, while we have a huge wine and food heritage – one of the largest in Italy, which is already very rich – and it’s still all to be discovered».

Oxtail terrine, celery sauce, baby potato crumble

Oxtail terrine, celery sauce, baby potato crumble

Pecorino matured 2 months with raw milk, it is only lightly cured with salt

Pecorino matured 2 months with raw milk, it is only lightly cured with salt

Local products are exotic: they grow – often naturally – in such unique conditions they are truly impossible to imitate: «We’re in the middle of the sea, iodine is in the air. Marmilla is very fertile, this is our petrol. Still, in Sardinia we import 85% of what we eat, and up to 87% of fruits and vegetables. It’s a paradox! 60% of the land that could be farmed is abandoned!». Around and with Casa Puddu there’s instead lively activity: there’s the Bulluca Travessa project, first vintage of a bottle-fermented white Nuragus wine, «free bubbles», in the words of Sanna, born from an idea of Petza and Meigamma and Gianfranco Perseu. There’s the big vegetable garden, and the courtyard with 120 hens.

Passeggiata nell'orto, a delicious dessert: chard sponge, Jerusalem artichoke, strawberries, orange, beetroot...

Passeggiata nell'orto, a delicious dessert: chard sponge, Jerusalem artichoke, strawberries, orange, beetroot...

Hence they serve dishes like Mandarino grasso (chicken liver, bitter orange, pan brioche) or Eggs, onions, pancetta, potatoes and scorzone truffle from Laconi. These are two of our tastings, some impossible to forget: Oyster, onion sorbet, lettuce and sea lettuce and marinated turnip, a sublime balance; or the fantastic Roasted squid with herbs and “tutto” peas (that is to say fresh peas, cream of peas and pea ice cream), or a really elegant sweet-savoury dish, with strong chargrill scents, and a delicate but strong personality; or Raviolini with Margherita onion, powdered onion, pepper sauce and pecorino, an incredible pasta, an ethereal veil that breaks in the mouth revealing its filling, but with a more chewable part creating a perfect texture. Even the bread basket is delicious.

Petza says: «I’m sorry people judge me only once a year in the guides. I’m sorry people often forget about us». There’s not much we can say: he’s right.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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