Summer eating really lends itself to vibrant Mediterranean flavours, so that was the inspiration for today's recipe. I had a large bowl of lovely cherry tomatoes grown and harvested from our little inner city garden and a nice crop of basil, as well as a pack of fregola that had been sitting in the pantry not yet opened, so it made sense to put them all together. A couple of lemons in the fruit bowl, as well as some lovely organic garlic sealed the deal. I had intended cooking a plain old roast chicken for dinner, but thought that there was no point leaving our lovely free range Burrawong chook out of things, so it got the Mediterranean flavour treatment as well.
Some of you might not have come across fregola before. Fregola comes from the Italian island of Sardinia and is small beads or "pebbles" of semolina pasta traditionally formed by hand, then toasted. This process gives the fregola a delightfully nutty and chewy character. Fregola is made by sprinkling water over semolina flour and quickly rubbing your fingers through the flour creating small balls of pasta. These are then sifted through different sized strainers to collect fregola of similar size so they cook evenly. Very sensible. It is used in a wide range of dishes from soups and stews to cold salads and accompaniments for meat or seafood.
As well as being very tasty, it is particularly versatile - you can pretty much use it anywhere you would use pasta, risoni or cous cous. Fregola is popping up on menus more and more, and these days it isn't overly difficult to get hold of. An Italian deli or good supermarket is likely to stock it. I have also seen it in gourmet stores so keep your eyes open for it. Although I am serving fregola today as a side dish with chicken, this would be a lovely simple vegetarian dish in it's own right if you forget about the chook part.
Lemony, Garlicky Chickenwith Fregola
Because of our shiny new BBQ, and the fact that I'm a bit obsessed with cooking on it at the moment, I did the chicken in this recipe on the open BBQ grill, with the lid on for most of the cooking. You can of course cook the chicken in a normal oven - I have included those instructions in the recipe below. If you are cooking the chicken in the oven, I recommend using a rack to cook the chicken on - allows better air circulation around the food and you will end up with a far better result.
You will need:
For the chicken - 1 whole free range chicken (skin on), 6 cloves minced or very finely chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 anchovies chopped or minced very fine, the juice and finely grated rind of 2 lemons, 1 teaspoon Harissa (if you don't have this, you can use minced chilli instead)
For the Fregola - 1 cup Fregola, 2 cups chopped cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup chopped spring onions, 1 tablespoon chopped pitted black olives, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, 2 anchovy fillets finely chopped, 1 tablespoon baby capers rinsed, 2 teaspoons olive oil, a handful fresh basil leaves.
To serve - extra basil leaves and lemon
Rinse the chicken with cold water. Pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut through either side of the backbone, removing the backbone and chook's bum with it. Turn the chicken breast side up and push on the breast so that the chicken is flattened out a little.
Combine all of the other chicken ingredients in a smallish bowl and mix well. Rub the mixture thoroughly all over the chicken, including under the skin as much as possible. Put the chicken on a plate, cover and allow to the flavours to infuse in the fridge for at least an hour (overnight is even better)
When you are ready to cook, heat the BBQ to a medium/high heat and cook the chicken over the open grill for about 30 minutes, turning from time to time. Keep the lid on as much as you can. You can also cook the chicken in the oven - cook for about the same time, on 220C. Cooking time may vary depending on the size of the chicken, so just keep an eye on it so that you don't over or under cook it.
Once the chicken is cooked, cover loosely with foil and allow it to rest while you make the fregola.
Combine the cherry tomatoes, 2 teaspoons olive oil, garlic, anchovies, capers, olives in a pan and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cook fregola in a pot of simmering salted water for 10 minutes until al dente and drain well.
Add the spring onion and the torn basil leaves to the tomato mixture. Cook for another 5 minutes. Now add the drained fregola and mix well.
Cut the chicken into pieces and serve it with the fregola and some extra basil leaves and lemon. Serves 4-6 people.
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