The Secret Behind Italy’s Rarest Pasta

It’s likely you’ve had spaghetti, baked Ziti and pasta bolognese and can probably name several of the 350 different types of pasta available, but it’s a safe bet that you’ve never heard of the rarest pasta there is. In fact, there are only three women in the world who still know how to make it. The pasta is called su filindeu (whose name means “the threads of God”), and you would have to travel to Sardinia to find it. There, 62-year-old Paola Abraini (pictured above), her niece, and her sister-in-law make su filindeu in the town of Nuoro. No one can remember how or why the women of the town began preparing it, but for more than 300 years the recipe and technique have only been passed down through the women in Albraini’s family — each of whom have guarded it tightly before teaching it to their daughters. A team of engineers from Barilla pasta came to see if they could reproduce the technique with a machine, but they couldn’t. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver stopped to ask Albraini if she could teach him how to make the dish, but after two hours he admitted defeat, saying: “I’ve been making pasta for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.” Albraini says the secret is in her hands. Su filindeu is made by pulling and folding semolina dough into 256 perfectly even strands with the tips of your fingers, and then stretching the needle-thin wires diagonally across a circular frame in an intricate three-layer pattern. It’s so difficult and time-consuming to prepare that for the past 200 years, the sacred dish has only been served to the faithful who complete a 20-mile pilgrimage on foot or horseback from Nuoro to the village of Lula for the biannual Feast of San Francesco. There are only three ingredients: semolina wheat, water, and salt. Unfortunately, after more than 300 years in the same family tree, these threads of God may need a miracle to survive for future generations. Only one of Abraini’s two daughters knows the basic technique, but she lacks the passion and patience of her mother. Neither of Abraini’s daughters have daughters of their own. The two other women in Abraini’s family who still carry on the tradition are now both in their 50s and have yet to find willing successors among their own children.