Friday, February 23, 2007

A Minor Interruption in the "Five Days" Train of Thought

LA Early-Spring Fregola
(Very loosely adapted from

I just made this and had to share it. Oh, yet another reason why I love living here: all of these vegetables are from my local farmers’ market; and the bay leaf, well, I foraged for that. The flavors of the sea, the canyons, and the hillsides come together in this dish, touched with a soft layer of smoke (smog?) from the Spanish paprika and toasted fregola. This is LA in a skillet, and it is one gorgeous dish.

You will need:

1 large artichoke, cleaned, tough outer leaves and stem removed
1 clove of garlic

1 bottle clam juice
1 ½ cups chicken broth
½ leaf wild bay from your nearest lovely canyon (one dry bay leaf will be a fine substitute if you aren’t lucky enough to have a Southern California canyon nearby)
Large pinch of saffron
1 cup fregola
Splash of olive oil

2 slices of thick bacon, cut into lardons (1/4 inch strips)
1 medium bulb of fennel, chopped finely (save a generous tablespoon of chopped leafy fronds)
1 leek, split, cleaned and finely sliced
¼ cup dry Vermouth
1 tablespoon Pernod
¼ teaspoon smoked sweet Spanish paprika
½ pound of sugar snap peas, strings removed
½ pound of cleaned, shelled shrimp
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
One lemon

To make the fregola:

Place the artichoke in a medium saucepan, along with the garlic clove. Add water—enough to cover the base by an inch or so. Place on a back burner at medium high heat and cook until you can easily remove the bottom leaves from the base. This can range anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. When the artichoke is cooked and tender, remove from the heat, let it cool enough to handle and cut it into quarters. With a spoon, dig into the center and scoop out and discard the fluffy “fur.” Cut the quarters again to have eight pieces. Don’t worry if the artichoke falls apart a bit—that will mean it will be integrated more completely into the whole dish, imparting its nutty sweetness in every bite.

Meanwhile, bring clam juice, chicken broth, saffron, and bay leaf to boil. Once boiling, add the fregola. Cook for ten minutes, then drain the fregola, reserving the cooking liquid. Toss the fregola with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside in a bowl to add to the dish in a few minutes.

In a large (and I do mean large) skillet, begin to fry the lardons until the fat has rendered and the pieces begin to crisp. Add the chopped fennel and leek, and cook at high heat until the leek begins to caramelize in places. Pour in the Vermouth, let it reduce to about a tablespoon, then add the Pernod. Let the Pernod reduce for about thirty seconds before pouring in the cooking liquid from the fregola. This liquid is starchy from the pasta, so you may have to add a splash or two of water in the next few minutes as you are cooking, if things get too sticky. Toss in the smoked paprika, artichoke pieces, peas, shrimp, and chopped fennel fronds and thyme. Cover the pan and let cook on medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the shrimp are pink and just cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice, if it fits your taste. Stir with a large spoon to mix ingredients well then serve the golden, pink, and green, slightly soupy meal in deep dishes.

Serves two very hungry people.


Susan said...

Even without the power of a photo, this post evokes very strong visual pleasure. I've never had fregola before. (Call me a fregola virgin.) Of course, I'm going to have to track it down now. Thanks.

Christina said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it--I had fun making this meal and figuring out how to describe it in words.

I found the fregola at Surfas--a great restaurant supply and specialty food store in Culver City. You can find it online at