Have you been to Sardinia? It's the second-largest island in the Mediterranean, you know. Sicily is the largest. But that is all I have to say on that painful matter, as a (good?) friend has decided to travel to Sicily this very April, on an eight-day wine tour no less, without the slightest thought of inviting along... Like I said, it's painful.
This person's email arrived just as I was getting ready to show you all the very nice batch of arancini (a Sicilian specialty) I had prepared. "And on the 8th day," read the Subject line. "P.S. I'll have a couple arancini for you," is how the email ended.
All a man can betray is his conscience.
— Joseph Conrad
Needless to say, the arancini has been put on hold until further notice.
And so we move to Sardinia. And to a food item that is very much associated with the island that my friend will not be traveling to weeks from now.
Fregula (or fregola) is sort of an Italian couscous. It's a pasta, made with semolina flour and water, though often saffron is added. It can be used like a pasta, of course, or a risotto. It is often added to soups, and cold fregula salads are popular as well.
It is a pretty rustic pasta, this fregula, irregularly shaped when made by hand. It is a toasted pasta, and so the color can vary quite a lot.
The really great thing about fregula is that you don't need to be a skilled pasta maker in order to prepare it. And it takes hardly any time at all to make a very nice fregula from scratch.
Place 2 cups of fine semolina flour into a wooden tray or shallow bowl, then gradually pour around two-thirds cups of water (I've added a little saffron to the water here) into that as you begin working the mixture by hand.
Simply rub the dough with your fingers so that small nuggets start to form.
After the nuggets have formed like so, keep breaking them up by rubbing them even more, so that the nuggets become smaller still.
Then place the entire batch on a baking sheet and put that in the oven (preheated to 200 F). As the fregula is toasting, stir it around from time to time so that it toasts evenly.
After about an hour you've got yourself a nicely toasted pasta that can be used right away or cooled and stored in an airtight container for several weeks.
After reading the email about Sicily I needed something comforting to ease the pain a bit. And so I boiled up a little fregula (12 to 15 minutes it takes to cook) and mixed that with caramelized onions and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
And I forgot all about the arancini — and the trip to Sicily — that might have been.