Risotto style Fregola with mussels

Cooking the fregola as you would risotto rice means a flavoursome result; it’s well worth the effort of cooking what is a multi-stage recipe. It’s not difficult, I promise! Try and find toasted fregola e.g. Rustichella d’Abruzzo. This is based on chef Dario’s dish which he served us – check out our video here – and if you’re ever in Olbia, either stay or eat at the Locanda Murales restaurant.

Serves 6

Extra virgin olive oil
1 kilo of mussels, washed
1 bottle good Vermentino white wine or similar – any leftover to be enjoyed by the cook
300g oven baked cherry tomatoes or fresh ones if they’re flavoursome
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
400g toasted fregola pasta
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper aka peperoncino
1 litre of vegetable stock if you need more cooking liquid

  • Prep the mussels

Place a large frying pan over a medium high heat and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large frying pan. Warm it through before adding the mussels, followed by a generous glass of white wine. Cover the pan and let the mussels steam for around 3 minutes – give it a good shake half way through. Check to see if the shells have mostly opened. If not, give them a minute or so longer. Scoop the mussels from the pan and discard any that haven’t opened. Put to one side while you make a mussel stock.

  • Make the mussel stock

Pour the mussel cooking juices into a saucepan. You should have around 500ml/1 pint of liquor.

Add 10 cherry tomatoes to the stock, along with a tablespoon of chopped parsley, a half a glass of white wine, 50ml of olive oil and the meat from 10 mussels. Blitz with a stick blender until you have an emulsion. Check for saltiness; this will determine how much of the vegetable stock you’ll need to add in a minute. Keep it on a low heat while you make the risotto style fregola.

  • Cook the pasta

Have a pan of vegetable stock on standby along side your mussel one.

Add enough olive oil to coat the sauté pan you’re using. Add the fregola pasta and fry until the pasta ‘starts to sing’ (says chef Dario) which takes about a minute. Then add another generous glass of white wine. Simmer until the alcohol evaporates off. Stir in the cayenne pepper and another tablespoon of chopped parsley.

This is the bit where I cannot tell you exactly what to do – it depends on how much mussel liquor you’ve got and how salty it is. Plus other variables like the brand of pasta, and how fast it cooks. But approach it in the same way you would a risotto: ladle in small amounts of mussel sauce. Let it be absorbed by the pasta before adding more. Add some vegetable stock if you want a less intense taste or you run out of mussel sauce. Add the rest of cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on the size. Keep stirring to a minimum.

The Rustichella brand takes around 15 minutes to cook. You want an end result where the pasta is cooked through and you’ve got a small amount of sauce but it isn’t a porridge or a soup. So don’t wander off and catch up on social media.

When you think the pasta has a minute or so to go, add the cooked mussels to warm through.

  • To serve

Dish up onto warmed plates and use some chopped fennel herb or basil for garnish. Drizzle over some of your best extra virgin olive oil and eat immediately.

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