Fregola is a favourite summer thing to have – at home, at the park, at the beach, you name it.
Similar in shape and texture to pearl couscous, fregola consists of small balls of durum wheat flour, dried and toasted, and comes in a mix of colours, from pale golden to sienna. The flavour is pleasantly sweet and nutty, the texture firm, holding its shape perfectly in soups and stews. It is traditionally eaten in a saffron broth with clams, but it is equally good in salads.
Here, I tossed it with roasted aubergines and cherry tomatoes, garlic, lots of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan, but I encourage you to experiment and find your favourite combination.
We landed in Bari on a Saturday in September, past dinner time. We had spent the day – the week even – in anticipation, thinking about our first meal in Puglia, perhaps outside on a terrace, with the air still balmy and the white wine well chilled. We both needed this weekend away so desperately. Not because of London per se – the weather had been particularly lovely lately. But we were restless and exhausted. We needed a few days of that lifestyle we both adore and miss so much: easy, slow and warm.
The little flat we had booked looked promising from the listing – bright, new and with a rooftop overlooking the roofs of Polignano. We had decided not to rent a car but to walk everywhere instead, so our host offered to pick us up at the airport. His name was Paolo.
Few things feel more festive to me (as to most Venetians) than bìgoli in salsa. As strange as this might sound, this poor, anchovy- and onion-based pasta dish is hands down the most popular Venetian Christmas Eve’s first course. A big classic in the cuisine of Veneto, bìgoli in salsa used to be enjoyed on giorni di magro (fasting days) such as Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Christmas Eve. Nowadays, you can find all year round in traditional osterie and local restaurants all over the region. However, it remains very much linked to fasting days in the local tradition.
Context. Bìgoli is a type of thick, fresh spaghetti that is originally from Veneto. Their origin seems to date back to the 1600s, when the whole region was under the domain of la Serenissima. A pasta maker from Padova designed and patented a machinery (called bigolaro) apt to make different shapes of pasta. Among them, thick bìgoli gained people’s preference, and fast became the signature pasta shape of the Venetian republic.
Since I was a little kid, springtime has always been synonym with foraging and cooking with wild herbs.
For years in this season, our table has been filled with dishes featuring wild garlic, wild hop shoots, mauve leaves, dandelion, and nettle. Usually, we would keep things simple and stir fry the herbs quickly before throwing them into a frittata or a savoury tart, or serving them as a side for meat or hard boiled eggs. Sometimes, we would do risotto or pasta or a minestrone with legumes and grains and whatever vegetables the season offered.
Living in the countryside has deeply shaped my way of conceiving food as something seasonal, and our cooking reflected this philosophy.
A few weeks ago, on a foggy Sunday afternoon, we drove from Bra to Cervere, a village known for being home to the best leeks in the whole of Italy, to secure our stash for the season.
The first thing I made with these huge, beautiful leeks is risotto – a simple dish made special by local, quality ingredients, and enriched by a good deal of savoury sausage for good measure. A perfect winter warmer.