Summer Fregola Recipe

And so, and now, another summer month has passed.

We took holidays at the end of August this year, believing it would have made our summer feel longer, stretching it further into early September. We are going to Sicily for two weeks (!), and I can hardly contain the excitement. In the meantime, though, as we roll out of one working week into another, I live with the uncomfortable feeling that summer is slipping through my fingers – too fast, too soon.

I have been resonating a lot with Molly’s thoughts on feeling busy. Doesn’t working in the summer feel so very unnatural to you? Don’t you feel you are missing out on the best things in life? Picking berries, baking pies, watching clouds, sleeping in the sun, swimming in the ocean and eating lots of grilled fish, to name a few. Days are so long and (mostly) beautiful here finally – skyes are dramatic, the air is fresher and the sun feels like the most amazing miracle – that spending such precious, rare days enclosed in a cabinet makes me sad and pensive. I think of my dad, a teacher, enjoying his summer time off; and to myself, growing up believing that having at least two months vacation time in July and August is a very civilised way to go about things. Adulthood, I don’t like you. Shall we make a law about this?

Thankfully, gifted with a handful of sunny weekends, we spent the most part of them in the park, snoozing, walking and tanning and picnicking – grazing on cold salads packed with whole grains, vegetables and fresh herbs. This one was a big hit, same for this and this. A couple of weeks ago we also went to to see The National playing in Hyde Park. There was Neil Young, too, but that was secondary, as it’s The National I am currently obsessed with. Each and every song resonates with me to a level I didn’t think possible – particularly Mistaken for StrangersGracelessSlow ShowConversation 16 and Don’t Swallow The Cap. And England. I listen to them on repeat and every time I spot a new passage that sticks with me, talks to me, and then I turn even more pensive and distracted and require more idle time in the park. We are going to see them again in November, and in the meantime the plan is to learn all the lyrics from all the past albums by heart, while exercising our screaming and yelling and jumping.

We had fregola salad for lunch that day, and I made a version of it again the other night while watching one of their concert in live streaming. Hearty forkfuls of chewy, nutty kernels coated in sweet, lightly charred tomato juices, well-seasoned aubergine and too much Parmesan, a couple of glasses of white wine from Veneto, lots of singing to the computer screen, a bit of dancing on the chair…This is what summer should always be made of.

Fregola is a typical Sardinian kind of pasta. It is similar in shape and texture to pearl couscous, and it is yet another sign of the influence of North African cuisine on Italian food traditions. It consists in small balls of durum wheat flour, dried and toasted, and comes in a mix of colours, from pale golden to sienna. The flavour is pleasantly sweet and nutty, the texture firm, holding its shape perfectly in soups and stews. It is traditionally eaten in a saffron broth with clams, but it is equally fantastic simply boiled and added cold to salads, or simply seasoned with oil and grated pecorino as part of a mezze-style meal. As a salad, it packs extremely well, not unlike other whole grains, and is perfect enjoyed at room temperature. In this dish, I used Mediterranean flavours that speak of summer – roasted aubergine with garlic, slow roasted cherry tomatoes, lots of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan. A sort of Pesto Alla Genovese mixed with an Alla Norma sauce. A successful exchange and melting pot of flavours and traditions.

Serves 2-3
  • 200g dry fregola
  • Rock sea salt
  • 400g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 small black aubergines, cut into cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small bunch fresh basil
  • 2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
Grated Parmesan, for serving

Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment; scatter one with the aubergine plus the garlic; on the other, place the cherry tomatoes, cut side down. Season with generous salt, pepper and a spoonful of oil each. Bake for 40-45 minutes, checking halfway through and turning the aubergine pieces if needed. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the fregola and cook for 10-12 minutes, until al dente but cooked through. Drain, then transfer it back to the same pot, and season with the remaining oil. Stir in the seasoning – aubergine and tomato – and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and roughly torn basil leaves. Give it another stir to combine. Serve warm, with generous grated Parmesan.

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