No, it’s not a curse from the new Harry Potter book (doesn’t it sound like one, though? “Harry pointed his wand at the robed figure that launched itself from the shadows and hollered ‘Fregola Sarda,’ just as the green light hit him and the world shattered into small pieces of pasta.")
Anyway, it’s not. Sorry. Guess I am getting antsy for July 21.
Fergola sarda is pasta – Italian couscous to be precise, made by rubbing tiny grains of semolina together with a bit of water, toasting them, rubbing them together again, toasting them again, and so on until you end up with tiny pasta balls that look like Israeli couscous, but more pebbly and less smooth and all kinds of gorgeous toasty hues.
I’d never heard of the stuff before. It was a gift from Judy Schad of Capriole Farm who makes some of the most delicious goat cheese I have ever had (and I have had some great goat cheeses!) I interviewed her on her farm in southern Indiana for a book I am working on (we stopped there on our way down here to Florida) and because that lady has one generous and impulsive heart, I came away not only with a sack of goat cheeses, but a package of fregola sarda, and several books. Not bad for a morning’s work.
But how to prepare fregola sarda? Hadn’t a clue. It looks like it would lend itself to risotto-like treatment, or maybe soup, but I googled around to see what recipes there were and the hands down favorite way to prepare fregola sarda seems to be with clams. That’s what they do in Sardinia, anyway, which is where this unusual pasta hails from.
Well, here I am in Clamland, so before heading down to Palm Harbor to spend a weekend reuning with high school friends and their husbands (including Ronnie at Around the Table), we stopped at Island View Seafood in Eastpoint and loaded up the cooler with Alligator Point clams (and Apalachicola bay oysters and wild gulf shrimp for good measure.)
Saturday night I drew kitchen duty, so I looked over about six internet recipes for Sardinian Clams with Fregola and settled on a variation of this:
Scrub 4 dozen clams and set aside. Heat ½ cup of good olive oil in a large, heavy pot, and sauté 3 cloves of garlic, minced, 8 plum tomatoes, chopped, a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes, and a couple of grindings of black pepper. When the garlic is softened but not browned add 1 cup of white wine and ¼ cup chopped parsley and simmer for five minutes.
Add clams to the simmering wine in a single layer and cover with a tight fitting lid (unless you are using the world’s biggest pan you will probably have to do this in two batches.) In about 10 minutes most of the clam shells will have popped open. Check periodically and as they open, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and set aside in a wide bowl that can catch all the juices. When all the clams have opened, add the second batch (discard any shells that refuse to open –these clams are bad and you don’t want to eat them.)
When all the clams are cooked and reserved to the bowl, add 4 cups of chicken broth to the intense clam broth in the pot and bring to a boil. Pour in 2 cups of fregola pasta (slowly, so you don’t lose the boil.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is done. This took a lot of tasting on my part since I had never done this before and didn’t know what "done" looked or tasted like. (Overall, I cooked it about 15-20 minutes. Much of the broth had been absorbed and the pasta was tender but firm to the bite, and had a toasty flavor.)
Adjust the seasonings. I had added salt earlier, but this was probably a mistake since the clams are salty and so was the chicken broth I used. Another time I will add salt at the end, if necessary.
Add the clams back into the brothy pasta to heat, then serve in shallow bowls. Serves six as a substantial first course.
(If you don't have a generous friend to provide you with fregola, you can order it here. I have not done so although I have had good luck with igourmet in the past.)