Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Seafood Soup with Fregola

I am so psyched that the fish people are back at the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market. Their fish is always delicious, the freshest and must flavorful I can get. When I bought fish at the regular store in February, one of their vacation months, it really hammered home what I already knew - fresh fish, preferably locally caught, is the best. So when to my delight they were at the market on Saturday morning I grabbed some bay scallops, some flounder, and a fish head for stock - free with any purchase, and actually the whole fish minus the fillets (See seafood purchased at market and used in this soup, right).

I think flounder is an under appreciated fish, probably because of its use in yukky fried fish sandwiches and other fast food. When fresh, flounder is really great, and very versatile. One of my favorite summer brunches is fried flounder, dredged in a mixture of corn meal, a little flour, salt and pepper, and my secret ingredient - pan-toasted whole spices like cumin and coriander, maybe a little crushed dried red chili. The recipe I want to share here though is more of a cool weather dish, perfect for warming the body and the soul. It is so yummy, and it's healthy too.

Seafood Soup with Fregole, is what I call it. Imagine a light broth, invitingly pink/orange in color, smelling of the sea. Chunks of fish, maybe some scallops and clams too floating in there. A hunk of good bread too, a glass of white wine or a light chill-able red like a young Chinon or a Cru Beaujolais...well imagine no further (see soup, left). This is surprisingly easy and exceptionally delicious if made with your own stock. It combines fresh seafood and broth with a tomato and dried chili base, and adds some toasted pasta. This dish is probably Sardinian, or southern Italian at least. And making fish stock is the hardest part of this dish. With boxed or canned stock it is still great, but there is no substitute for the real thing, in my opinion.

My version of this soup calls for fregole, the Sardinian toasted pasta (see bag of fregole, left). I've been going a little crazy with the fregole lately, using them in side dishes with smoked pork and collard greens, with mushroom puree and parmesan, with everything. They're nutty in flavor, coarse in texture so they hold sauce well, and like most pasta, they go with most anything. The only recipe on the back of the bag is for fregola with clams. That fact, combined with the seafood soup with fregola that I ate at our last visit to Al Di La (our favorite restaurant) inspired me to try the combination of fregola and seafood at home. So, here is my version of this soup:

Seafood soup with Fregole
Olive oil
1 medium sized clove of garlic (just a little bit of garlic - we want the flavor of the sea, not of garlic)
4 medium sized shallots
dried red chili flakes - a half teaspoon is warming but mild, increase to taste, but for decency's sake, stop at one and a half teaspoons - you want to taste the other ingredients, don't you?!?
1 medium carrot (not Sardinian - this is all Brooklynguy)
half a bag (250 grams) dry fregole
1 tablespoon good tomato paste
5-6 cups of fish stock
Seafood: I used flounder for the fish chunks, and scallops. Use clams, mussels, whatever you want. No oily fish though, stick to white-fleshed fish.
A handful of parsley stems
salt to taste

Don't be intimidated by making fish stock. If you like to cook, you should try this. Unlike meat and poultry stock, fish stock takes 30 minutes of simmering, an hour total including cleaning the fish. And it is soooooo good. Click here for the recipe I use, from an earlier post.

Here's what you do:
Boil a large pot of water and cook the fregole for 7-10 minutes depending on the texture you want. I go about 7 minutes here because they will also simmer in the soup. Drain and reserve the fregole. Finely mince the garlic and the shallots, cook in olive oil over medium heat. You are sweating these vegetables (getting them to release their moisture), not browning them (see sweating vegetables, left).

Add the chili flakes, cook and stir for a few minutes more. Add the tomato paste and stir well, cooking the paste and coating the vegetables with the paste. Peel and coarsely chop the carrot, add it and cook for another minute. I use the carrot purely for the crunchy texture, although it does add a bit of sweetness. You can leave it out, or substitute another crunchy and mildly flavored vegetable.

Add the warm fish stock, lower the heat to medium-low, and bring gently to a boil (simmering soup right before fish is added, left). After only 30 seconds boiling, lower heat again so that the soup is just simmering, and add the fish and clams if you are using clams. If you are making the soup in advance, stop before the fish is added - you want to do that right before you serve the soup, same with the fregole I guess. The fish will cook quickly, 2 minutes tops. Add scallops and simmer for about 30 seconds. Add cooked fregole and stir. Ladle soup into bowls and top with finely chopped flat leaf parsley stems (beautiful smell, crunchy texture).

We enjoyed this soup tremendously with a hunk of bread and a glass of Muscadet, specifically the 2005 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Clos des Briords Vieille Vignes, $14. The next day we loved it again, this time with a glass of the 2002 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses, $16, which we chilled a bit - something you can do to great effect with young drinking Loire reds. This is not exactly a young drinking Loire red - this is an age worthy wine to be sure. But we were drinking it young...

I hope you try and enjoy this soup before the cold weather disappears.


Anonymous said...

The soup looks gorgeous. In our household, whenever I came home from fishing, we would also whip up a soup with the fresh fish.
The only differnce is that we don't use the pasta. Instead, we throw in a few green peas and healthy bunches of cilantro and a few scallian right before turning off the fire. (Salt and pepper to taste)

I saw that you use black fish head as soup base - good choice. I tend to use sea bass or cod.

The sweetness of the fish, aroma of cilantro and scallian always make as say a satisfied 'Ah! after eating a big bowl of this soup.

Thanks for sharing your recipe. I shall try it next time with fresh haddock.

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Andrew,
Your version reminds me of a Chinese style soup that I LOVE. Do you use stock in yours?

I actually didn't choose the black fish - its what they gave me. I was glad because this time there were no messy gills to get out. Were you a fisherman? Sounds interesting...where? I'm so glad that you appreciate the recipe. Please let me know how you like it. And if this is the same Andrew, I want to hear about Pinot Days, as it now turns out that i will be out of town and cannot go. Actually, I could use someone to do a guest post about it...(hint).

Anonymous said...

Yes. This is the same Andrew. I usually go fishing 5-7 times a year bringing home some fresh fish for the family. I fish from New England (cod/haddock/porgy) in Spring & South Jersey (Sea Bass/Black Fish)in the fall.
Regarding my fish soup, which is indeed Chinese style, I make fish stock from scratch using the cache of head/bones from 3-5 fishes (after frying them a bit to enhance the flavor). I got to tell you. Porgy meat is the sweetest of them all to be used in soup.
Regarding Pinot days. I shall try my best to collect information but I do not know my writing style is up to par as you can see on a blog ( where I started to record tasting notes of my own.
Happy Easter.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Andrew,
I will ask for porgy next time then, thanks for the suggestion. I know that the folks at Blue Moon (the fish people at my market) sell Porgy. And I'm curious to read your thoughts about Pinot Days, once it happens. I like your blog so far - keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

Where do you buy your fregola? I've been looking for this pasta for some time after having it in a fantastic side dish at Otto (paired with sweet corn). I've only seen it at Citarella for an absurd $8/lb. Is it always that expensive? I'm in Carroll Gardens. Thanks!

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Blake,

First of all - GREAT SITE. I just spent some time poking around and I love it. Great writing and great photos, interesting and accessible cooking too. I will be back for sure.

$8/lb is absurd for fregola, yes. I buy mine at the Park Slope Food Coop for $3/500 grams. If you're not a member you should tell a friend who is a member to pick some up for you. Or just join. Lots of people from your part of Brooklyn are members. Great prices on fresh locally grown and/or organic food.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Hi brooklynguy,

The Fregola does sound like a great price. Thanks for the tip! I've told some co-workers about the store. They'll definitely be stopping by.

I always eat my fregola simmered in a tomato-based sauce with clams.

Anonymous said...

Love to know where to find Fregola in NYC/Brooklyn area?