It was summer, and Ante had a cold. As his Jeep rumbled down the barren, rocky hill, patches of Adriatic Sea shimmered and winked in the distance. We descended from a high plateau on the moonscape island of Pag—Croatia’s most indented island—famous for Paški sir, it’s unique, award-winning sheep’s milk cheese.
Ante had retired from his position as CEO of Paška Sirana, the largest cheese factory on the island. After feeding his flock of sheep, it was time for Ante to return home and rest. His daughter, Martina, told him to stop so she could pick some fresh sage for his tea. Known for its medicinal properties, sage is a common herb found in popular Croatian dishes—including the sauce for needle macaroni.
Makaruni na iglu (“macaroni on the needle”) is a popular dish in Dalmatia and on Pag, a northern Dalmatian island. It is made for special occasions like Easter and weddings. Pasta, one of Italy’s gifts to Croatia during a 600-year-long rule, plays a starring role in Dalmatian coastal cuisine. In Italy, maccheroni used to be made by wrapping pasta dough around knitting needles—the same way it is made on Pag today.
If you visit the island of Pag, you can sample this domestic specialty at the restaurants listed below. You can also make this delicious dish in the comfort of your own home.
Recipe for Konoba Giardin’s needle macaroni.
WHERE TO SAMPLE NEEDLE MACARONI ON PAG
Located on a hill on the northern part of the island, in the middle of a dense pine tree forest bordering a vineyard, this boutique hotel has a world-class winery and restaurant that serves a gourmet version of needle macaroni with Pag lamb stew. Lambs on the island breathe salt-infused air and graze on sage, rosemary, and rare local herbs, which naturally flavor their milk and meat. Boškinac’s wine and cuisine is so spectacular that it drew Anthony Bourdain to their doorstep. Novaljsko polje bb, Novalja, 385/(0)53 663500, boskinac.com
In the pastoral town of Kolan, located in the middle of the island, this friendly tavern is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Brothers Josip and Nikola serve hearty, home-style fare in a casual atmosphere. Giardin’s thick needle macaroni with lamb goulash is Hungarian-style—with healthy portions. Vanđelje 1, Kolan, 385/(0)23 698007, konoba-giardin.com
The only four-star hotel on the island is a privately owned Valamar property located on the northern tip of Pag Island in the town of Lun. Sample homemade needle macaroni with beef stroganoff and other Mediterranean specialties on a romantic candlelit terrace overlooking the sea and surrounding islands, while watching the sunset and listening to the calming chirps of crickets. Jakišnica 1, Lun, 385/(0)52 465000, valamar.com
Aptly named, this charming restaurant on a port (porat) in Old Novalja serves a variety of mouth-watering dishes. Sample the local Dalmatian specialty, Dalmatinska Pašticada, comprised of beef cutlets with a gravy made of carrots, speck, sliced apples, onions, celery and dried plums, with a red wine and mustard marinade. The meat is marinated for two days, then baked in a special oven, topped with grated rosemary cheese, and served with homemade needle macaroni. Drljana bb, Stara Novalja, 385/(0)53 651348