The berries of this mythological shrub are not only used for the famous Sardinian liqueur, but also in numerous recipes: from porceddu to roasts, from olives to mozzarella. Rediscovering what its role was in our cuisine until the 16th century, before the advent of oriental spices
Not just liqueur, not just Sardinia. Myrtle is certainly among the spices that deserve rediscovery in the kitchen. With its strong and rich flavor, it was one of the main condiments used in the times of Ancient Rome, before the arrival of pepper definitely put it in the background. Yet the virtues of the myrtle berry are truly many.
Triumph and fall of the myrtle
The arrival of pepper, a very expensive oriental spice which first arrived in Europe with Alexander the Great, confined myrtle to popular cuisine until the 16th century, a period in which the arrival of chilli pepper from the Americas and the decrease in the price of pepper would determine its oblivion. However, surviving in Italian cuisine, and in particular in Sardinian cuisine. For example, the myrtle-based liqueur is very famous: a drink probably already known in Roman times (the "myrtle wine" mentioned by Cato the Elder), which however began to establish itself in the formula we know only in the nineteenth century, in popular cuisine and exclusively for home use. However, commercial success outside the island would only arrive in the 1970s. Myrtle liqueur actually includes two different products: the red one, obtained from the maceration of the berries in alcohol; and the white one if leaves and shoots are used instead.
Ideas from Sardinia
But let's abandon the liquor and return to our myrtle berries. In Sardinian and Corsican cuisine they are used to give even more flavor to the famous porceddu (or suckling pig), roasted using a mixture of juniper, myrtle, laurel and olive wood, and served on myrtle branches. But the berries also appear in roasts and game in general. Myrtle also makes a delicious jam, perfect for tarts with a strong flavour. While, in terms of desserts, myrtle liqueur can be combined with gueffus, the typical morsels of almond paste dipped in sugar widespread, under different names, in some areas of Sardinia. Or to enrich the taste of delicious fruit ice creams. With shellfish, myrtle is part of the recipe for Alghero-style red prawns. Another very common use on the island is grilled chicken, pheasant or quail, often tied together, boiled and left to rest for a whole day under a bed of myrtle leaves and berries.
Myrtle in Campania and Puglia
Outside Sardinia, in Campania the myrtle branches are used for the production of Mortedda (or mozzarella co'a Mortedda), a sort of mozzarella obtained from the milk of Podolica cows which the shepherds of Cilento packaged in myrtle twigs and tied with the broom, in order to transport it more easily. In Puglia, the use of myrtle in the kitchen is mainly concentrated in Salento and Taranto, where it is used to accompany grilled meat instead of pepper, as happened in Roman times; while flowers sometimes enrich fruit salads. Then, together with wild fennel, myrtle berries are used for the preparation of black olives in water in brine. More generally, myrtle can be used in recipes such as chicken with myrtle, rabbit with garlic and myrtle, quails with myrtle, rack of lamb with myrtle and lamb with myrtle and broad bean purée.ave.