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I’ve always been fascinated by how many different dishes you can create using just, eggs and flour. Fregola is a sardinian couscous like rounded shaped kind of pasta the preparation of which (starting from scratch with your bare hands) is a lot of fun.
The grains are very adaptable, you can treat them as a plain kind of pasta for soups or even creamed as a classic risotto. All over around, according with the area, you may find dozens of fregola recipes, cooked either with vegetables, meat or fish. Most people consider fregola with clams a signature dish of tradition, especially down in the south. In the current recipe I am going to present a version of mine of the dish, varied by adding mussels and grey mullet bottarga. Simple, yet stylish this dish is a good example of balance between flavours.
- a little extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic unpeeled, squashed
- 1 fresh chilli pepper (to taste)
- parsley minced
- 1 sun dry tomato chopped
- 1 glass vermentino white wine
- a chunk of butter
- bottarga powder and sliced to taste
- 1 kg clams
- 500/700 gr mussels
- 3 cups of fregola pasta
- salt if required
Let’s get started! First the painful stuff: we are going to clean up the mussels by scraping off the shells with a serrated knife, no need to over do it. When you are done put them in a pot with a lid better if you toss them in a pressure pot. Drizzle with olive oil and wait for the mussels to open up with a bright heat to get their broth out. Divide the broth from the mussels and dilute it with water to cut the excess of salt. We are not cooking the mussels with the fregola, they have a very short cooking time and the least you cook them the better, their meat will remain tender and fresh. No worries, we will get the chance to flavour the dish with their broth. The clams will rest in salty water for 1 or 2 hours to extract the sand.
Heat the oil in a different large pan. Add the squashed unpeeled garlic, the sun dried tomato, the chilli pepper and the parsley and make them sauté for a wile. Put the clams well drained in the pot a raise up the burner, after a while pour the wine and wait for it to evaporate. Add the fregola that might have been previously toasted. Bring to cook with a low heat adding the mussels broth little by little as needed. When the fregola is al dente and firm make it creamy with the butter, add the mussels and serve with bottarga powder on top of it. Enjoy!
It is better to remove mussel meats from the shells reserving half the shells. Sprinkle with abundant bottarga powder and place some slices of bottarga on top of the dish, it will be nice to have both consistencies in your mouth. Use a leave of parsley to add some colour contrast, do not sprinkle with the fresh one it is not a good mach with the bottarga taste.
It is advisable to keep the garlic with the skin, the taste will be more gentle and you won’t risk to brown it too much. Fresh chilli pepper will give a better taste to the dish. It is better to add the mussels at the very end, this way you will avoid to overcook them keeping their meat soft and rich with sea taste. Better to dilute the mussel’s broth to control the amount of salt. Remember to wash down the sun dried tomato before having them sautéd with the rest. You can use a different kind of white wine the important thing is it has to be sharp. It’s nice to toast the fregola separately for some minutes using olive oil and a half non-chopped onion.
My own way
I love adding the mussels at the very end to preserve the tenderness of their meat. I usually open them up using a pressure pot, it’s weird I know. A minute on the burner is enough with the lid on and the valve closed. I generally put few drops of olive oil and half a glass of water to start the evaporation. This way they will be perfectly sterilized within seconds by the high temperature meanwhile they won’t lose any water because of the pressure leaving the meat pulpy and joyful.
Fregola is a type of pasta from Sardinia. It is similar to Israeli couscous. Fregola comes in varying sizes, but typically consists of semolina dough that has been rolled into balls 2 or 3 millimeters in diameter and toasted in an oven. To make it crispier it can be used the yolk while making the dough.
Vermentino is a light-skinned wine grape variety. It is a local sardinian grape, sharp and quite often matched with fish recipes. The most famous wine made from Vermentino is probably the D.O.C.G. Vermentino di Gallura Superiore which is produced in the province of Olbia-Tempio.
Bottarga is a sardinian delicacy of salted, smoked cured roe (egg-fish) typically from grey mullet. When appropriately aged it can be grated on the pasta (or risotto) or sliced and seasoned with olive oil.