Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sardinia by Way of Fregula

Prepped clams and fregula

 Oh Sardinia.  How I dream of you.  Well, mostly I dream of your food.

Since no round trip tickets from JFK to Sardinia appear to be falling from the sky, I decided to bring Sardinia to me last week.  Girlfriends coming over for dinner and my clam-hating boyfriend out of town for work, a warming dish of saffron infused fregula with clams and chorizo seemed in order.

Fregula, though the product of a technically Italian country, owes a heavy debt to its neighbors on the African continent.  A tiny semolina based pasta, fregula is essentially a larger, toasted version of couscous, a staple of may North African diets. 

An island province, Sardinia works seafood and meat into fregula much the way Spaniards add combinations of land and sea to rice in paella. 

Fregula with chorizo and clams.  Brussels sprouts and winter squash.
For the purposes of my girls night dinner, I prepped the clams in advance.  After steaming open the clams in some white wine, I shucked about two thirds, reserving the rest still in their shell for a more decorative look.  The clam and wine broth was strained through some cheesecloth and reserved for cooking with the pasta later. 

When the girls arrived I browned some crumbled chorizo and set it to to the side, toasting the fregula in the sausage drippings.  To the clam juice I added chicken broth and a pinch of saffron, setting the pot of broth to warm up over the stove.  Slowly, like making risotto, I added broth bit by bit, allowing the liquid to absorb while I went.  Fifteen minutes later, with the fregula al dente, back into the pot went the clams, chorizo, and a handful of chopped parsley. 

It was the sort of dish, light and fragrant, perfect for a girls’ night in of drinking exotic white wine and dreaming of our next vacation. 

Fregula with Clams and Chorizo
Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 lb. manila clams
½ c. dry white wine
2 links chorizo sausage (about ½ lb.)
2 cloves garlic
3 c. chicken broth
1 pinch saffron
1 c. fregula
2 Roma tomatoes
1 handful flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper

Rinse clams in a colander under cold running water to remove grit.  Place in a pot with the white wine.  Bring the clams and wine to a simmer and steam until clams all open up, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove clams from the broth with a slotted spoon.  Shuck about 2/3 of the clams, discarding the shells.  Reserve the other third with the shells and clams intact.  Strain the clam broth through cheesecloth or a damp paper towel.  Return the strained clam broth to a medium pot.  Stir chicken broth and saffron into the clam broth.  Bring the broth mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer over very low heat, keeping warm for later use. 

Remove sausage from casing.  In a large pot, brown sausage, breaking up with a spoon until it is all cooked through and crumbled.  Remove sausage and set aside.  Drain off and discard all drippings but two tablespoons.  Mince garlic.  Saute garlic in the sausage drippings over a medium flavor for about two minutes, until soft.  Add the fregula to the pan and toast in the sausage drippings for several minutes.  Dice tomatoes.  Add tomatoes and ½ cup of the warm broth to the fregula stirring while broth absorbs.  Keeping the pan over medium heat, add broth to the fregula ½ cup at a time, only adding more after last addition has absorbed.  Continue on in this manner for 15-20 minutes, until fregula is chewy but not hard. 

Chop parsley.  Stir clams, both in the shell and out, plus chorizo into the cooked fregula with a little additional broth (fregula should be moist but not quite soupy).  Remove from heat after two minutes.  Stir in chopped parsley.  Season with salt and pepper to desired taste.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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