Friday, April 3, 2009

I mean, come on

As much as I enjoy cooking and as many cookbooks I own/recipes I've clipped/food blogs I've bookmarked, I still find myself cooking the Big Three dishes over and over for dinner: pasta with red sauce, pasta with pesto, something with chickpeas (usually chana masala or pasta e ceci). Sure, special dishes creep in with a certain degree of frequency but when push comes to shove, those are the three meals I'm craving. This is because each is delicious, tried and true. Their cooking methods are ingrained in my psyche, their component ingredients always present in my pantry. I don't have to think about them; I don't have to plan dinner. I can get home from my unspecified gallivanting and still have a delicious home-cooked meal on the table in little time and with even less thought. 

I suppose it's lazy, in a way: I should not be saving culinary exploration for the weekends. It should be a daily pursuit, even on the days when I'm really tired. I usually have a lot of varied ingredients on hand and am therefore capable of whipping up something different without a special trip to the store. And good gracious, I write a food blog. Why not use the few brain cells I have to call on that well-stocked pantry for something new and different? I mean, come on.

And so it happens that the other day I was reading a post about ricotta salata that included a bulleted list of uses for the salty cheese. I have some ricotta salata in the fridge, leftover from the deconstructed pesto lasagna. Loathe to let anything go to waste, an imaginary light bulb illuminated over my head as I read one suggestion to mix ricotta salata with fregula Sarda, roasted zucchini, olives and rosemary. What a salt-lovers dream! Ricotta salata and olives! With fregula! Beloved fregula!

It so happened that I had two packages of fregula in the pantry, just waiting to be enjoyed. I'm also the proud owner of a big bunch of fresh rosemary, thanks to my marvelous local Italian grocery, DeVitis, which sells bountiful fresh herbs of a glorious quality for mere pennies compared to the pitiful, black-around-the-edges, expensive grocery store offerings -- totally necessary during the long winter when I can't grow them at home. (DeVitis also sells the most delicious fresh mozzarella, and their Italian sausage is a favorite of Dad's. And once, when Mom went in the shop right as they were closing, instead of sending her away empty-handed they gave her a loaf of bread and some cheese. "We don't want you to go hungry tonight." They don't make stores like that anymore.) All I had to do was procure some briny, flavorful olives -- DeVitis, of course, sells many varieties, including magnificent green Sicilians and Moroccans with a ton of flavor in their shriveled flesh -- and I was well on my way to something different for dinner.

I didn't even miss the pasta with red sauce tonight. Imagine that. 



This dish is sort of salad-like in its composition, and thus would make a wonderful side for a piece of grilled chicken. It's equally good on its own as well.

A note about the chicken stock: if you wish to make this dish vegetarian, you can cook the fregula in 8 c. of water and omit the chicken stock. You can also substitute vegetable stock.

2 small zucchini, diced
5 T. olive oil, divided
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. freshly-cracked black pepper
6 c. water
2 c. chicken stock
2 T. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 c. Sicilian olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 c. Moroccan olives, pitted and roughly chopped
3 oz. ricotta salata, cubed or crumbled

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the zucchini, 3 T. of the olive oil, salt and black pepper on a baking sheet; toss to combine. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes.

While the zucchini is roasting, bring the water and stock to a boil, then season with a pinch of salt. Add the fregula and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes. Do not overcook, or you will end up with a mushy mass of tragically wasted fregula. Drain the fregula and place it in a large bowl and toss with the remaining 2 T. of olive oil.

Add the roasted zucchini, olives, rosemary and ricotta salata to the fregula and stir to combine. Season to taste, though my taste says that the ricotta salata and olives are seasoning enough. Consume!

Serves at least 6, more if used as a side dish.


Arlene Delloro said...

I want to live near a Devita's. I'm so jealous of the fresh herbs you can get. I have to pay $4 for those black-around-the-edges disgraces! I know what you mean about the tried and true recipes. I keep chicken, Arborio rice, and canned artichokes at the ready.

Anonymous said...

Drunkey will stop by your house and eat some :)

Laura said...

This looks great. I wonder if Israeli couscous would work in it? In the meantime I am putting fregula on the list for the next time I am in the city....

Dianne said...

Arlene, you're right: you do want to live near DeVitis. :) It is such a great little store.

Drunkey, you can stop over anytime to have fregula.

Laura, Israeli couscous would work great in this dish as well, it just wouldn't have the toasty flavor of fregula. But it would be a really tasty substitute. And if you don't want to wait until you're in the city to get fregula, you can order it on Amazon and