Like cous cous—a food originating in Northern Africa—fregola is not a whole grain but a semolina flour pasta rolled by hand (or machine). Hailing from Sardinia, fregola's coarse spheres are much larger than cous cous, giving them more heft and texture. Once dried, fregola is toasted, which imparts an amazing nutty flavor and also helps it keep an appealing sturdiness even after it's cooked.
Fregola can be added to soups, cooked gently in stock like risotto, or simply boiled and tossed with olive oil or butter and some herbs. A traditional pairing is clams and tomatoes, but I had a couple of portobello mushrooms that needed to be cooked. While the fregola boiled, I chopped the mushrooms into large pieces and sautéed them with garlic and olive oil. Then, just after they had released their water and begun to caramelize, I tossed in a handful of chopped rosemary and sage. The nutty fregola complemented the tender, earthy mushrooms beautifully. The meatiness of portobellos was especially wonderful, but any mushroom would work. Look for fregola in Italian markets or online, or substitute Israeli cous cous, which is larger than traditional varieties.
- 2 portobello mushrooms, cleaned and chopped into large chunks
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 5 sage leaves, sliced thinly (chiffonade)
- 1 rosemary sprig, leaves chopped
- 1/2 pound fregola (or substitute Israeli cous cous)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Bring a pot of salty water to boil and cook the fregola until soft and chewy, 10-12 minutes.
In the meantime, heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the mushrooms. Cook until they begin to release their liquid, then add the garlic, rosemary, and a good pinch of salt. Let the moisture cook away, then let the mushrooms gently brown and toss in four of the sliced sage leaves just as they finish.
Drain the fregola well, then return it to the pot and add the mushrooms. Toss and moisten with olive oil as desired. Top with freshly ground pepper and the last sage leaf.