I’ve been inspired by Giovanni Pilu’s A Sardinian Cookbook to make a seafood soup with fregola – the island’s famed, small round pasta. You could use moghrabieh (Middle Eastern pearl couscous); just toast it in a dry pan first, swirling the pan the whole time over a medium–high heat. If you buy the vacuum-packed, cleaned clams, there’s no need to purge them.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced, cut into 2 cm pieces
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 375 ml (1½ cups) white wine
- 1 L fish stock or water
- 200 ml passata (sieved puréed tomatoes)
- 2 bay leaves
- 150 g fregola (see Note)
- 500 g baby clams (see Note), purged (see Note)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- extra virgin olive oil, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Toss in the onion and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes or until really soft and just starting to colour, turning up the heat a tad if need be once the onion is really tender. Add the fennel and garlic and cook for a further minute without browning the garlic. Pour in the white wine and turn the heat up to high. Boil for 10 minutes or until about half the wine has evaporated, then add the fish stock and passata. Pop in the bay leaves and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to medium–low and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, but don’t oversalt as the clams will add some more saltiness later.
Turn the heat up to high and bring to the boil, then pour in the fregola through your fingers (rather than in a huge lug) so that it doesn’t stick together. Stir immediately, then again as it comes to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the fregola is cooked.
Toss in the clams and bring back to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes or until all the clams have opened. Toss in the lemon juice and zest, then serve with a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
• Fregola is Sardinian toasted semolina pasta similar to large pearl couscous. It is available from delis and specialist food shops.
• Baby clams are available from fishmongers.
• Purge clams by washing in cold water 3 times. Pull clams out of the water rather than straining to avoid pouring the dislodged sand and grit back over the clams. Place in a bowl of cold water with 75 g rock salt for 2 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse under running water
Photography Alan Benson