When you enter Rita D’Enza’s Gallura in Olbia, you may wonder why you bothered doing anything else. No one displays food with the earthy affection that Rita shows for it: large earthenware bowls with soups made of beans or chick peas and many mysterious greens; baskets of bright-eyed fish, their skins glossy as though they had just been landed; other baskets piled with thick-crusted breads; a two-tiered display of antipasti, grilled vegetables, vegetables cooked with tomatoes, with onions, with herbs you know and herbs you don’t, marinated fish, mussels, cockles, and other creatures of the sea not easily recognized.
Things come to the table unbidden: lightly salted ricotta with warm, bitter honey, little potato breads, steamed mussels with saffron, wine, and garlic, a stack of carasau bread, crisped in the oven that moment and brushed with olive oil and rosemary. Then Rita comes and, in her vowel-rich, warm Sardinian voice, begins to name dishes: “Will you taste my soup of cannellini and red cabbage?” “Yes!” “And the soup of borlotti beans and mussels?” “Yes!” “Nonna Teresa’s mutton soup with onion and tomato?” “Yes!” “Lasagne with swordfish?” “Yes!” “Malloreddus with boar rag—?” “Yes!” “And cuttlefish with artichokes, lobster Alghero style, baked sole with cheese?” “Yes, yes, yes!” You wonder if you will ever be able to rise from the table and drive away. The answer to that is to take one of the new rooms Rita has built upstairs. On the morrow, you’ll be relieved to be that much closer to the dining room. Unless you’ve come to Sardinia to go swimming.
How to describe the flavor of Rita’s food? Intense, yet subtle; penetrating, yet gentle; surprising, yet comforting; fragrant, aromatic, surging from deeper sources of savor than anyone else seems to have tapped.
Probably only Rita can cook quite this way. But not even Rita could do it without Sardinia’s ingredients, its fish, its herbs, its tomatoes, its cheeses, its bread. Not in continental Italy, no, nor in any other place, have we found their like.
This is a portion of a larger article that was published in Travel and Leisure Magazine in 1992