Whether the sun shines or not, the temperature is up and thoughts of Mediterranean getaways enter our consciousnesses. For those of you wishing to get into the mood with a bit of Mediterranean food, look no further, food writer, Mei Chin was with Myles with some ideas from an overlooked part of that region – Sardinia.
Fregola and shrimp and clams.
(Langoustines optional). Fregola is a Sardinian pasta, made from semolina and about the size of Israeli couscous, and it is flavored with saffron and toasted. You cook it like a risotto with the stock. My favorite way to have fregola is with seafood, and the way it was demonstrated to me in an agriturismo outside of Arbus probably united the simplest and the best.
First peel your shrimp – you want the head on, unpeeled variety, the fresher the better, gamberi, and I find slitting them up the side with the scissors is the easiest. (You can get lovely ones in Ireland). Then sweat the shells and the heads, crushed, with a bit of olive oil and minced onion and parsley stems and some tomato and carrot, diced. You can pour a bit of brandy in (optional – I do this after taking the pan off the heat – I sometimes flambé but don’t want to do it my small kitchen) then cover with a splash of white wine and water and a pinch of salt. I dice everything quite small so I don’t have to strain the stock afterwards – again, this is an optional step.
Then in a separate pan, a healthy bit of olive oil, one clove of garlic, minced, and a healthy pinch of salt, sweat over medium high heat, then add your fregola. Let the fregola toast a bit in the pan, then add optional brandy, let it cook off, then white wine, diced tomato, and when the fregola is dry, add about a third of your stock. Turn the heat down to medium low, and let it simmer until the stock is absorbed. Add another third and let simmer again (all in all, it should take about fifteen minutes) then add your raw shrimp and your clams (optional) and stir, some of your stock, a bit of water, and let simmer until the shrimp turns pink and the clams open. Then taste for seasoning, add the last of your stock (it should be soupy) and a very healthy glug of olive oil and parsley. Garnish with grated lemon rind if desired.
A friend of mine in Sardinia who claims that she doesn’t cook, also says that fresh pasta is easy. I don’t find fresh pasta the hardest thing in the world, but I find it somewhat messy and time consuming. I also find that the shaping of culurgiones is a lot like the Chinese jiao-zi, you pleat the sides together. I will publish a recipe for the pasta dough online, but I actually find that the filling of culurgiones, slightly thinned, makes a wonderful alternative to traditional mash.
Mash together potatoes, boiled and mashed.
Ricotta (sheep milk preferred, but ordinary okay)
one clove of garlic, minced.
And when steaming, add a bit of milk (do this only if you are not using for a filling for the ravioli, it just makes for a slightly silkier texture)
plenty of olive oil
and then add a healthy dose of
Pecorino (sardo preferred, but romano okay.)
Another great variation which is not Sardinian– a roasted potato salad with mint – potatoes cut into quarters and roasted and then smashed, tossed with garlic, olive oil, salt, and plenty of fresh slivered mint. It is delicious.
Saute tuna, cut in small dice, with minced onion in plenty of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add two plum tomatoes, finely diced (the tonnaroti would not skin or pip the tomato) and a splash of white wine and a splash of fish broth/water. Allow to simmer for about five minutes. A foam will rise to the surface, this is what I have been heard is called crema. Taste for seasoning.Toss, in the pan, with linguine (good quality fresh will do, but dried is okay), a splash of pasta water, and a very healthy dose of olive oil or pat of butter (not traditional, but I like it.) Garnish with grated orange rind.
OPTIONAL RECIPE: Tuna in olive oil (available in Fallon and Byrne) tossed with capers, olives, olive oil, parsley, and garlic and linguine, garnished with lemon rind and pecorino romano. It’s a good example of a “cold sauce” – nothing but the pasta is cooked.