I always say that one of the best parts of blogging is the friends and connections I make. And it's so true. Ilaria, who blogs over at Ilaria's Perfect Recipes, first found my blog when I was recapping our honeymoon in Italy. When I mentioned an amazing chilled coffee drink I'd had in Modena that I wanted to re-create at home, she shared a recipe with me (I still need to try it this summer). After that we were regularly commenting on each other's blogs and exchanging emails as well.
I told her that I had returned home from Italy with a bag of fregola, and though I'd made it before, I wanted to know some of the traditional ways it's prepared or things it's paired with.
She shared some ideas with me and told me that it's often cooked risotto-style, suggesting that I start by making a soffritto, add vegetables and then the fregola, add a little bit of wine and let it cook off, and then cover everything with broth and cook it until the fregola is done, adding more broth as necessary.
I used her advice as a framework for developing this light and flavorful spring-vegetable-laden fregola dish. I scoured Whole Foods for some spring vegetables and ended up with leeks, asparagus, and peas. (I really wanted fava beans too but couldn't find any, so I grabbed some green beans.) I wasn't sure I wanted to simmer the vegetables in broth with the fregola because I wanted to keep them somewhat crisp, so I cooked them separately and set them aside while I cooked the fregola. I simmered the fregola first in a little 90+ Cellars Sauvignon Blanc to add some acidity to the dish. Then I cooked it in chicken broth, letting the fregola absorb the broth and adding more as needed. I stirred the vegetables back in along with a healthy dose of Parmigiano-Reggiano (still working on one of the wedges I brought back from Italy). Then I finished the dish with snipped chives and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.
A bowlful brought both spring and Italy to mind.
Fregola With Spring Vegetables
This risotto-style fregola dish is full of leeks, asparagus, green beans, and peas.
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Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 2 to 4 servings
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thoroughly washed, halved and sliced thin
Kosher salt and pepper
20 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
20 green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1/4 cup fresh peas (from about 14 pods)
1 cup fregola
1/2 cup white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
2 1/4 cups chicken broth, plus extra as needed
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnishing
Chives, for garnishing
Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in large nonstick skillet. Add leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add asparagus and cook for 2 minutes.
Stir in green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Add peas and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer vegetables to bowl.
Reduce heat to medium, and add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil and fregola to skillet. Toast for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often.
Stir in wine and let cook off.
Add 1 cup broth. Simmer, stirring often, until broth is absorbed. Add 1/2 cup more broth and simmer until absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/4 cup at a time, letting the fregola absorb it before adding more, three more times, or until fregola is al dente or cooked to your liking. Stir often.
Once fregola is cooked and all broth has been absorbed, stir in vegetables and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide fregola mixture among bowls.
Top each serving with a few Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings, and snip fresh chives over the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve.
Notes: I used my salad spinner to wash and dry the leeks after I halved and sliced them, and it worked very well. Fregola is a small, chewy, toasted pearl-shaped pasta from Sardinia. You can find it at Salumeria Italiana in the North End and most likely at other Italian specialty stores. I had thought about adding a splash of sherry vinegar at the end but forgot. The pasta doesn't need it, but it could be a nice addition.
I made this last weekend when my mom was visiting for Mother's Day, and we both really loved how the dish came out. The fregola was nutty yet creamy, and the dish had bright spring flavors plus a hint of sharpness from the cheese. Thanks for all your advice, Ilaria! If any of you are looking for good Italian recipes, be sure to check out Ilaria's blog.
Have you tried fregola?