Chef’s Dish: Lesley Draper talks to Sardinian chef Mario Masia

Mario Masia
Mario Masia

Sheffield’s increasing variety of restaurants can offer most things these days – including the promise of a long life, it seems...

Sharrowvale Road’s newest eatery, Akentannos, is the city’s first dedicated Sardinian restaurant and its name translates as ‘100-year life’.

Sardinian Pane Frattau, as served at Akentannos

Sardinian Pane Frattau, as served at Akentannos

This might sound like an idle boast, but there could be something in it: Akentannos serves authentic food from a country where it’s pretty much the norm to live to 100 years of age or more.

The restaurant is run by Sardinian-born Mario Masia and his wife Giovanna.

They used to run Maso on Surrey Street, which was a big hit with some illustrious diners as well as the locals.

Among its fans was actor Derek Jacobi – who would eat there every night during a run at the Crucible Theatre.

Mario Masia at Akentannos

Mario Masia at Akentannos

Maso regularly included Sardinian dishes on its menu, as did other places where Mario worked.

But he wanted to go one better than that: “I decided it was about time we launched a restaurant wholly dedicated to our homeland,” he says.

And the former Pasta Bar near Hunter’s Bar offered the perfect setting.

Mario is keen to share the culinary secrets he learned as a boy: “Eat smarter, live longer is our motto and cooking dishes very slowly is behind many of them,” he says.

Akentannos. Picture: Andrew Roe

Akentannos. Picture: Andrew Roe

“Sardinian people live a long time and people point to the food and wine for that reason. We’re introducing the secrets to the people of Sheffield.”

The extensive menu includes a whole range of traditional Sardinian ingredients, including the island’s famous pecorino cheese and Cannonau wine.

One of Akentannos’s signature dishes is pane frattau’– a kind of lasagne, rich with tomato sauce and the celebrated ewe’s milk cheese, topped with a poached egg.

It comes with Sardinian ‘pane carasau’ – or music bread – so thin that it looks like manuscript paper.

“This is a great introduction to Sardinian cooking. It is quite simple to make but the flavours and textures are to die for,” says Mario.

“It is one of the most typical and well-known dishes of the Barbagia region and it’s served in all the restaurants of the island in a range of versions.”

The bread, renowned for its crunchiness, has its own fascinating story.

It was thought to have been invented during the Bronze Age by the wives of island shepherds, who needed food that could last for a long time without deteriorating.

The original process involved a ritual so physically demanding that it took at least three women to produce it.

These days things are rather easier – it can be picked up in the supermarket.

Recipe by: Mario Masia

Sardinian pane frattau

INGREDIENTS:

(serves 4)

8 small sheets pane carasau bread

4 cups meat or vegetable broth

4 large eggs

Freshly grated pecorino cheese

SAUCE

800g tin tomatoes

4 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled & cut into slivers

1 onion, peeled & coarsely chopped

Salt

10 large fresh basil leaves

METHOD:

Place canned tomatoes in a medium-sized saucepan with extra virgin olive oil.

Add garlic, onion, salt and basil leaves.

Simmer for about 20 minutes until sauce is cooked.

Pour broth into a sauté pan and heat well; soak four sheets of pane carasau for 3-4 minutes.

Carefully transfer each bread sheet on to individual plates to cover.

Pour hot tomato sauce over each sheet and spread it out gently. Sprinkle on grated pecorino cheese.

Set remaining four sheets of bread in the broth and soak for 3-4 minutes.

Layer on to plates, on top of the previous sheets.

Again top with tomato sauce and sprinkle on lots of grated pecorino cheese.

Break 1 egg into the same broth, remaining over medium heat, and simmer for 3 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer egg on to one of the dishes. Repeat procedure with remaining eggs and serve while still hot.

Vino Cannonau is the standard drink to accompany this dish.