Know where Sardegna is? It’s an island. It’s part of Italy but don’t tell that to the Sards. They have their own language and their own customs and a pretty good football team in Cagliari. This “minestrone” is inspired by the cooking of this island. There they would most typically use chickpeas but I’m using smaller legumes; small white beans and yellow peas to complement the pasta component, that being fregola. Allow yourself a day and a night to make it, but what the hell else are you doing that’s more important? Looking after the goats? Fregola is a sardegnan pasta similar to couscous to which it is related. You can find it in either large or small grains. If you can’t find fregola, don’t give up. You can substitute another small grain or cut pasta shape.
Another note; I first published this recipe three years ago and writing under deadline I screwed up a few details. I think those are now fixed. —pierino
- Serves 6
cup small white beans, smaller the better
cup split yellow peas
or 2 garlic cloves, chopped
medium tomatoes, peeled and quartered
1 bulb fennel, sliced paper thin, hold back the fronds
red onion, chopped
sage leaves (or more)
Extra virgin olive oil
cup fregola grassa
- The night before you plan to serve, rinse the white beans and allow them to soak overnight in good water (you will be saving the water)
- On the morrow bring the white beans up to a simmer with a bay leaf and some whole peppercorns and cook slowly for about 1 hour
- In a separate pot cover your yellow peas with water and simmer for 30 minutes
- Chop the onion and garlic
- Peel the tomatoes and quarter, and slice the fennel (saving the fronds); a mandolin works great for the fennel portion of the program
- In a large heavy pot, heat up enough olive oil to coat the bottom and color the onion and garlic, followed by the fennel. Followed by the tomato. Add the beans and peas and stir. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough water to cover. If you’ve saved the water in which you parboiled your legumes you can use that.
- After about ½ hour of steady simmer add the fregola and continue to simmer. This could take awhile until it gets to “soupe” so be patient and don’t rush.
- Chop up the sage and the fennel fronds and hold until your soup gets close to finish.
- Grate the pecorino cheese.
- Does it look like soup? Add the sage and fennel and continue to simmer.
- When ready to serve, add the soup to individual bowls and grate pecorino cheese over each portion. Drizzle with a really good olive oil and serve.
- Notes to cook: I'm actually preparing this now to beat deadline. With this quantity of legume (beans) I think you should be ready to salt aggressively toward the end. Up to you. Also, this soup will be still better tomorrow. You can turn it into a ribollita by whisking in some day old bread and more cheese.