There’s an Italian restaurant in Newcastle called Panis Cafe; a no fuss, typically loud, always busy cafe style place near the Theatre Royal (for those that know the city). It’s one of my all time favourites, with consistently good and authentic Southern Italian dishes. I would just mention as well that the service is the fastest I’ve ever experienced, with a plate of food arriving literally minutes after ordering even when at it’s fullest. I guess years of catering for theatre goers will do that though.
It was here I first tried fregola (or fregula? – they spell it both ways on their menu). They’re small pieces of semolina pasta from Sardinia which have been toasted so they have a distinctive nutty taste. It took me a while to find it in shops but a small independent deli, appropriately named mmm sells it in a local market.
After trying a few variations, I personally think it’s best served as Panis do, with a light wine sauce with seafood, but I also used it in soups and it works well.
This was another spur of the moment type dinners. We went to see the Black Keys play last night and so needed something fast before we set off. I had some samphire in the fridge which is fairly commonly (and cheaply) available theses days and is delicious. It’s a coastal plant and therefore has a robust and salty flavour which is great with seafood, naturally.
This serves 4 and is ready as soon as the pasta is cooked, so about 15mins.
- 300g Fregola/Fregula pasta
- 1 tbsp sea salt for the pasta water
- Optional – vegetable bouillon powder – but make sure you add less salt to the pasta water
- 200g large prawns roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Quality Extra Virgin olive oil (to finish)
- 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 green chilli, finely chopped
- 2-3 good handfuls of samphire about 150g
- 2 large tomatoes (preferably skinned), diced
- 1 large glass of white wine
- 1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 knob of butter (optional)
- 1 green chilli, finely chopped
- Black pepper
Start by getting the kettle on for the hot water (I promise I did this before reading Jamies’ 15 minute meals!!)
Whilst that’s happening, prepare all the ingredients and leave to one side on a board ready to use as it all happens quickly one the pasta is in.
Put the pasta in a large pan with the salt and stock powered if using. I’m not sure it’s authentic, but I think it adds a nice flavour! There is salt in the stock though, so adjust the amount extra you add.
Pour over the water and bring to a rapid boil. It’ll take about 10 minutes, so time to get on…
Add the olive oil to a small frying pan, heat gently and fry off the garlic and chilli for a minute with a good pinch of salt. Stir in the prawns and briefly colour followed by the wine and the tomatoes. Scatter the samphire on the top and leave to reduce for 3 or 4 minutes. The heat/steam will help cook the samphire without over doing it.
Check the fregola, it should be nearly done, without being over done. You can now finish this one of two ways!
1. Drain the fregola (reserving some of the pasta water) whilst slightly underdone, and return it to the pan with the sauce and a few table spoons of pasta water. Heat gently with the lid on to finish cooking. Stir in the butter once done.
2. Once it’s ready (try it), drain it, keeping a little of the pasta water in case you need it.
Put the cooked & drained pasta back in its pan, stir in the butter if using followed by the sauce and mix thoroughly. Add a little of the pasta water if its too dry.
Either way, finish by stirring in the chopped parsley and a little ground black pepper and plate it up in pasta bowls. Drizzle over the extra virgin olive oil to taste.
I like to add a little parmesan and mop it up with some good bread too. Love it.