I first came across fregola in the summer. My lovely local Italian restaurant, Masaniello, uses it to thicken their wonderful fish stew. When I asked what it was, the waiter described it as small pasta, a bit like large couscous. And once you eat it, you understand the description because it has a silky softness to it that ‘eats’ more like couscous than pasta. When I made my own version of head chef Livio’s fish stew, I couldn’t find fregola so used orzo instead (a small pasta that looks a little like rice grains). It was when I visited Mercato Metropolitano a few weeks ago that I finally found some fregola and it’s been sitting in my kitchen waiting for inspiration. I didn’t want to cook the fish stew again as my son – who is temporarily living with me with his family – doesn’t eat fish. So what could I do instead? Turning to Google, I found lots of salad recipes for fregola but that wasn’t what I was after. Then I found a Nigel Slater recipe for Sausage and Fregola with Harissa, and that was my inspiration for tonight’s supper. I didn’t quite follow Nigel’s recipe, but it’s certainly the basis for my own recipe.
You can see from the photo that fregola is the tiniest pasta pieces that are cut into little pellet shapes. Fregola comes from Sardinia and is sometimes called Sardinian couscous. The make I bought from Mercato Metropolitano is the toasted variety, which gives the pasta a lovely nutty flavour. The toasting also helps it keep its shape so the fregola can be used as an alternative for rice when making risotto, or used to thicken sauces (as I did tonight) or soups; and this is also why it works well as a salad base.
Ingredients (for 3)
- 9 sausages (plain or herb)
- olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 Romano pepper, halved, deseed and thinly sliced
- 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
- 1-2 tablespoons rose harissa
- small bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
- salt & pepper
- 200g fregola
First of all, heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil in a large shallow pan, then fry the sausages until nicely browned; they don’t have to be cooked through as they’ll finish cooking in the sauce. Transfer the sausages to a plate and cut on a slant into three.
Add a little more olive oil to the pan if there isn’t much left, then tip in the chopped onion. Let it soften for a couple of minutes then add the sliced pepper. Cook until both are softening but not well done. Tip in the sliced sausages.
Add the tins of tomatoes and stir well and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Now add the harissa (I found 1 tablespoon quite spicy but taste and add more if you like; it will depend how spicy you want it and on the harissa you’re using). Now tip in the chopped parsley, stir and cook for about another 5 minutes. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed – but you may not need a lot, depending on your harissa.
You can prepare the sauce a bit in advance, if you like, but the fregola needs to be cooked at the last minute. Measure out 200g and then add salt and boiling water and cook according to instructions on the packet – mine said 10 minutes, though I checked after 8 and it was done. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Don’t overcook it and remember it will get a little extra cooking when you add it to the hot sauce.
Mix together carefully but thoroughly. I felt mine needed a little loosening so I added some of the cooking liquid until I had the consistency I wanted – still thick, but a soft kind of thickness rather than solid – similar to a risotto.
This is a fabulous all-in-one dish – your sauce and pasta all together. I served it with just a green salad on the side.
It was a lovely meal: so flavourful, a nice touch of heat from the harissa, and so comforting now the evenings are turning more wintry. The fregola is quite special as it’s so light; it makes it wonderful to eat. It was a great hit with the family and now we’ve discovered fregola, I’m sure we’re going to be using it a lot. I’ll just have to seek out a more local source to buy it!