Well, it's Friday and the sun has shone all morning bringing back memories of my second home, Italy. I was due to do an Italian food collaboration today on Instagram so I had been considering what Italian dish I might cook. I had a few in mind but when I was outside in the garden in the sunshine, I felt I should do something fairly summery and yet that is a little different. So, I decided to pay a lunchtime visit to Sardinia (food-wise obviously) and make fregola with pancetta, pecorino and mint.
Fregola is a Sardinian pasta rolled into cous cous type balls (although bigger) and oven toasted so it has a lovely nutty flavour. It works really well as an alternative to arborio rice in risotto or to add texture to salads, similar to cous cous in tabbouleh. It is also delicious as an accompaniment to game or stews (just cooked in some chicken broth and tossed in a knob of butter).
I paid a visit to Little Italy in Dublin last week, which is a super Italian food store, and got loads of pasta, sauces, pancetta, cheeses etc and I picked up a packet of fregola and a hunk of pecorino. I also had half a bottle of white wine that we didn't finish during the week and a packet of mint so I figured I could definitely come up with a risotto-style dish that was a bit lighter than an actual risotto. It worked a treat and the family pronounced it a huge success. The absence of butter (which I would normally put in a risotto) and the nuttiness of the fregola (rather than the more stodgy arborio rice) plus a slight kick of chilli and the freshness of the mint really made this a super little summery, lunchtime dish. And of course pecorino is just so delicious in anything that I couldn't really go wrong.
1 litre chicken broth/stock
200ml white wine
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
1 small white onion chopped finely
2 cloves garlic chopped finely
50g pecorino (plus some shavings for serving)
Handful chopped fresh mint leaves (plus some sprigs to serve)
1 tbsp olive oil
Dried chilli flakes
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pan (I use a wok because I find it lovely for stirring) on a medium heat and add garlic, onion and chilli. Fry for around a minute making sure garlic doesn’t darken or burn. Add the pancetta and fry for around two further minutes, stirring so nothing sticks to the pan. Add the fregola and cook for another two minutes till it absorbs the juices and starts sizzling. Add the wine and cook off. Then gradually add the broth, about 150ml at a time, cooking the liquid off before adding more. This process should take around 10 minutes. Once almost all the liquid is absorbed but the mixture is still loose, add the grated pecorino and mint. Cook for about half a minute, taste, season with salt if necessary and serve topped with pecorino shavings, a sprig of mint and some dried chilli flakes.