Have you ever tried Fregola Sarda? You should. Fregola is a semolina pasta hailing from Sardinia, Italy. What distinguishes fregola is its shape and flavor. The pasta are rolled balls which are sun-dried and toasted, similar to pearl or Israeli couscous. Their unique shape and texture lend well to soups and salads. I find their nuttiness so addictive and satisfying, I like to keep my preparations simple to allow their toasty flavor to shine through. This dish is light and bright, inspired by the fresh asparagus and lemons in season now at the farmers markets.
Fregola Sarda with Asparagus, Pecorino and Lemon
1 pound fregola
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 pound thin asparagus
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the fregola and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes or per package instructions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss to coat.
Cut the stalks of the asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces while keeping the tips intact. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the asparagus stalks and tips. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Saute until asparagus brightens in color, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until asparagus are crisp tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and add to the fregola. Add the Pecorino and toss to combine. If the fregola are too sticky, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Serve warm with additional black pepper.