Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Fregola Sarda with zucchini and cherry tomatoes

On one my many visits to Labriola's Italian Food Market, I noticed some artisanal pastas which I felt compelled to buy. Generally, pasta is pasta and while certain cuts go better with specific sauces, preferences are largely personal. I, for example, hate and will not eat rigatoni. Go figure.

Fregola Sarda are little round pastas (bigger than acini di pepe, but not quite as big as a dried currant), so I bought them and thought I would use them in a soup, maybe whip up some wedding soup (to be posted at a later date) But the fregola sarda were unlike anything I had ever seen -- coarse and golden brown. These are rugged little pastas, very appropriate for the rough island of Sardinia (turns out the 'sarda' is for 'Sardinia'.) It is made like acini di pepe (or really, almost any pasta), but after it dries, it is then toasted or baked, which gives it a rich flavor you don't normally find in pasta -- all toasty and warm and almost caramelized. Think about that -- caramelized pasta. (Band name?)

This is a very simple and traditionally Sardinian dish and one that is sure to go into my regular rotation, so long as I get lay my hands on fresh zucchini and cherry tomatoes from the kids at Freedom Farms. In the winter, when zucchini and fresh tomatoes are a distant memory, I'll try dropping these in some soup.

You will need:
2 small to medium zucchini
1 small basket of cherry tomatoes
1 package (about 8 ounces [dried]) of fregola sarda
a good sized hunk of parmesan cheese
quality extra virgin olive oil

The prep:
This is perhaps the simplest prep of any recipe I've ever posted.

Put a large sauce pot of water on to boil.

While that is coming up to a boil, slice the zucchs in half lengthwise, the slice them into thin half-moons.

When the water reaches a rolling boil, add a big pinch of salt and the fregola sarda. Stir immediately as this pasta tends to stick. Fregola sarda has a long cooking time -- 12 to 14 minutes.

While the pasta is boiling, coarsely grate the parmesan cheese. I used the largest holes on my box grater. Then slice the cherry tomatoes in half.

When the pasta is about 2 minutes from being done (and by done, of course, I mean al dente), add the zucchini. Give it a quick stir. The zucchini will bring the temperature of the water down a bit, so it will take a minute to get back up to a rolling boil. Cook until the pasta is al dente. [I wish I had some handy trick to pass on, but my trick for testing the pasta is to taste it. There is no magical eyeball test.]

Drain the pasta and the zucchini, then remove to a large bowl. Sprinkle liberally with freshly ground black pepper, the tomatoes, a handful of the parm and a liberal application of quality olive oil and toss.

Serve it with the remaining parm and a good finishing olive oil (I am particularly fond of Cosimana e Ferrari, which you can pick up at the Pittsburgh Public Markets, if you're in the 'hood).

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