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Though I've experimented with many Fregola Sarda recipes, it's this salad that I always return to.
Fregola Sarda, also called ‘Fregula', is a distinct pasta from the island of Sardinia, an Italian island that sits west of Italy's boot. On the island, this popular mini-pasta is crafted from durum wheat semolina flour and rolled into tiny balls that are toasted for a delectable nutty flavor. When boiled until firm to the bite, the pasta has a hearty, chewy texture. Sardinians often serve it with seafood, but it also makes a wonderful base for salads.
The Fregola Sarda salad I'm sharing with you today is adapted from the cookbook Near & Far by Heidi Swanson. Heidi is a clever cook who reliably creates unusual flavor and texture combinations in her recipes. This salad, with its alluring list of savory ingredients, is no exception.
Ingredients You Need to Make this Fregola Sarda Salad
- Fregola Sarda: This distinctive Sardinian pasta with its ragged edges and nutty flavor can be challenging to track down, but it's worth the effort. If you can't find it at your local grocery store, you can purchase it online here. Israeli couscous, also called pearl couscous, is also an option.
- Garlic: Look for a head with firm, plump cloves and no shriveling or discoloration.
- Lemon: A standard lemon works well here, but sweeter, more floral Meyer lemon would also be delicious.
- Fresh Basil: Look for a bunch with bright green perky leaves.
- Eggs: Ideally pastured eggs for their deep orange yolks and rich flavor.
- Radicchio: Looks for a firm, bright purple head that's heavy for it's size.
- Capers: Use either salt cured capers or those bottled in brine (rinsed and drained either way).
- Olive Oil: Use a good, fruity extra virgin olive oil.
- Hazelnuts: Look for nuts that are plump and firm with tight skins.
Crunchy hazelnuts contrast with the chewy pasta balls and crunchy radicchio. Fried garlic and capers add flavor depth, while grated hardboiled eggs offer delicate texture and richness. Then slivers of fresh basil and a hearty dose of fresh-squeezed lemon juice pull it all together.
I stuck with the basics of Heidi's recipe, but swapped in radicchio for Belgian endive. The deep purple hue adds a lovely color contrast and, like endive, lends a pleasantly bitter flavor to the salad. Either works beautifully in this salad recipe. Or for even more variety add a little of both.
If you want to embellish this salad further, you could add shaved zucchini or fennel, a few cherry tomatoes, and/or shaved pecorino or parmesan cheese or crumbled goat cheese. And if you don't have hazelnuts, substitute pine nuts or pecans.
What to Serve Alongside
This salad is hearty enough to be a meal on its own, but also works well as a side dish. Particularly for any protein you're grilling.
More Must Make Main Course Salads
Israeli couscous (also called ptitim or pearl couscous) is also a pasta, but is not the same as Fregola Sarda (Fregula). Both are balls of similar size, 2 to 3mm in diameter. But while Israeli couscous is smooth and uniform, Fregula has a rough texture, a less uniform size, and is toasted to varying shades of brown.
Fregola is pronounced FRAY-gola.
Fregola is not a grain, but a pasta made from durum wheat semolina flour.
Israeli couscous, also called pearl couscous, is a good substitute.
Fregola does have gluten as it is made from durum wheat semolina flour.
How to Make Fregola Sarda with Radicchio and Hazelnuts
Step 1: Hard boil eggs and cool in ice bath. When cool, peel and coarsely grate. Season lightly with salt.
Step 2: Cook fregola pasta according to package directions; drain and rinse with cold water. Gently shake colander to remove excess water.
Step 3: Meanwhile, cook and stir capers and garlic clove in olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until capers begin to brown and burst. Remove from heat; discard garlic clove and season lightly with salt.
Step 4: Transfer fregola pasta to serving bowl; pour olive oil and caper mixture over and gently toss to coat. Add raddicchio, basil and most of the hazelnuts; gently toss to combine. Top with remaining hazelnuts and grated egg; serve.
Fregola Sarda with Radicchio and Hazelnuts
- 3 large eggs
- 7 ounces fregola sarda pasta recipe note #1
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup capers drained, rinsed and patted dry
- 1 large garlic clove smashed and peeled
- pinch fine sea salt
- 1 lemon juice and zest
- ½ small head raddichio or 3 medium Belgian endives, sliced crosswise into thin ribbons
- ½ cup torn fresh basil leaves about ½ ounce
- 1 ½ ounces toasted hazelnuts coarsely chopped
- In a pot, bring enough water to boil to cover eggs by 1-inch. Carefully lower eggs into boiling water and allow to boil 30 seconds. Reduce heat to low and cover; simmer 10 minutes. While eggs cook, prepare an ice bath. When eggs have cooked; transfer to ice bath. Let cool 3 minutes then peel and coarsely grate with hand or box grater. Season lightly with salt; set aside.
- Heat a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook fregola until firm to the bite (al dente) according to package directions, 13 to 15 minutes. Drain and rinse gently with cold water; shake to remove excess water.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add capers and smashed garlic clove; cook and stir until capers burst and begin to brown. Remove from heat, discard garlic and stir in a pinch of salt.
- Transfer fregola to a large serving bowl or platter; add capers and oil from skillet and toss to coat. Add lemon juice and zest and toss to coat. Add raddichio, basil, and most of the hazelnuts and gently toss to combine. Top with grated eggs and remaining hazelnuts and serve.
- If you have trouble finding fregola sarda, orzo pasta or Israeli couscous would also work well.