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9 Longevity-Promoting Recipes from Italy’s “Blue Zone”

By Sunny Fitzgerald
November 28, 2023
Courtesy of The Pasta Project

Sardinia, a Mediterranean island located off the coast of Italy, is considered one of five Blue Zones — the regions of the world where people live longer, reaching 100 years of age at 10 times greater rates than in the United States. What’s their secret to longevity? National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner and a group of scientists, anthropologists, and demographers studied Blue Zones around the world and found nine common denominators; including a “plant-slant” diet that focuses on small portions, minimal meat and dairy consumption, a daily dose of beans, and a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other whole foods.

These traditional Sardinia Blue Zone recipes bring together these healthful ingredients, often with whole grain bread or pasta, while meat and fish are used sparingly and served on special occasions. With these nine longevity-promoting meals inspired by recipes common in Sardinia, you won’t have to travel all the way to Italy to experience the benefits of Blue Zone eating.

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1. Sardinian Herb Soup

Sardinian Herb Soup

Courtesy of Karen’s Kitchen Stories

Traditional Sardinian cuisine makes use of ingredients that are local and in-season, and you can do the same when selecting herbs for this herb soup. Beans provide protein here, so this dish can be healthy without the added meat (although removing the meat will alter the flavor). You can get some of that salty and savory flavor back, however, with a bit more ricotta Salata — or, take this soup in a spicier direction with fresh chilies. You can also submerge some leafy greens such as spinach or kale. For gluten-free family members or guests, prepare with brown rice rather than the Sardinian-favored fregola. Keep in mind that rice will absorb the water, so it’s best to pour the soup over the cooked rice just prior to serving.

Try the recipe from Karen’s Kitchen Stories.

2. Fregola with Clams

Fregola with Clams

Courtesy of The Pasta Project

Blue Zone diets incorporate seafood sparingly (according to Blue Zones Food Guidelines, no more than three ounces up to three times per week is recommended), and fregola with clams — a popular Sardinian seafood pasta dish — is a classic, healthy option. If you’ve never cooked clams at home, don’t be intimidated: they’re not as tricky as you might imagine, and this recipe is a good one to start with. But if you prefer to skip the clams, you can consider another seafood substitution, such as shrimp. If you go that route, Chef Jacqui recommends cooking the shrimp with garlic before adding it to the tomato paste, water, and fregola.

Try the recipe from The Pasta Project.

3. Sa Panada

sa panada

Get your comfort food fix without overly heavy fillings with this Sardiain version of a chicken pot pie, Sa Panada. In Sardinia, the Sa Panada ingredients vary by region and season, so you can experiment with proteins and vegetables that are available in your area. Make it vegetarian by replacing the meat with garbanzo or white beans, and consider adding peppers, which are both packed with vitamin C and a great way to add some color.

Try the recipe from Strictly Sardinia

4. Sardinian Salad

Sardinian Salad

Image credit: The Scotsman

A light dish that lets the healthy ingredients sing, the Sardinian salad is a great start to a meal. Don’t skimp on olive oil; it’s the most widely consumed oil in Blue Zones for good reason. Studies have shown that olive oil consumption lowers bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol. Sheep’s milk is also popular in traditional Sardinian diets, so if you can get your hands on some ricotta Salata, sprinkle some on top for a salty-but-healthy finish.

Try the recipe from The Scotsman.

5. Spicy Chickpea Soup

Spicy Chickpea Soup

Courtesy of The Pasta Project

Think of this as a protein-rich vegetarian version of the fregola with clams, with a nice little chili pepper kick. You can add heart-healthy leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, or if you’ve got meat-eaters amongst you, chopped pancetta pairs well with the thick, tomato-based sauce. (Blue Zones Food Guidelines recommend two ounces of meat or less, five times per month.) If you’re preparing this one for the kids, you might skip the chili pepper and serve it with some toasted whole wheat garlic bread for dipping instead.

Try the recipe from The Pasta Project.

6. Cheese and Potato Pasta

Cheese and Potato Pasta

Image credit: Dobbernation Loves

If you’re up for a culinary challenge, try your hand at culurgiones, Sardinian stuffed pasta dumplings. These little pockets are packed with longevity-promoting ingredients including basil (which can improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure), garlic (an immunity-booster), and olive oil (containing antioxidants, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that help prevent cardiovascular disease, and vitamins E and K). And these dumplings are popular with the kids: make it a family night and invite everyone to a friendly competition, and see who can stuff and shape the best culurgiones.

Try the recipe from Dobbernation Loves.

7. Salad with Hazelnuts

Fregola Sarda with Radicchio and Hazelnuts

Image credit: Pinch and Swirl

This starter brings together some of the best of popular Sardinian ingredients including olive oil, basil, lemon, and, of course, fregola. The hazelnuts and eggs provide ample protein, so no meat is needed. And if you’re not a fan of radicchio, you can play with other salad substitutions like fresh spinach, romaine, endive, arugula, or mixed greens to your liking. Honor the longest-living men in the world, a group of shepherds in Sardinia, by adding a little fresh sheep’s milk cheese, which is a natural companion to this dish. (Goat cheese would be great, too, of course.)

Try the recipe from Pinch and Swirl.

8. Minestrone Soup

minestrone soup

This flavorful soup is hearty enough to take the chill off an autumn evening but light enough to serve in springtime, too. Packed with protein-rich beans and fresh vegetables, it’s perfect for plant-slant eating. This minestrone stands on its own as the main dish but also makes for a meatless side to share at a potluck. If you prefer to skip the pasta and want to incorporate another Blue Zone ingredient instead, toss some toasted almond slivers on top just before serving for that nutty crunch.

Try the recipe from Soup Addict.

9. Walnut Pesto Pasta

walnut pesto

This Sardinian-inspired dish is a crowd-pleaser: quick and easy to cook, the walnuts provide protein and a nice meaty texture, and the recipe can be adjusted for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-intolerant folks. Skip the cheese if you’re cooking for vegans, and substitute zoodles (zucchini noodles) or chickpea pasta for those with Celiac and other grain-free diets.

Try the recipe from Shape Up Fridge.

Read next: The 5 Lifestyle Habits All Blue Zone Cultures Have in Common

Sunny Fitzgerald covers food, travel, sustainability, health, and home. You can find her work in National Geographic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Travel+Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, BBC, and elsewhere.

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