Friday, March 3, 2017

Heidi Swanson's (Not Quite Fregola Sarda) Israeli Couscous with Capers, Egg & Hazelnuts

I love looking at pictures of food that pull me in and make me think about and begin to savor the ingredients. This pasta salad from Heidi Swanson's Near & Far cookbook had me at hello when I spied the capers peaking out and the tumble of hard boiled egg and hazelnuts on the top.  Some of my favorite ingredients in an interesting combination. I wanted to know more and then I wanted to make and eat it.

My version didn't turn out to be exactly like Heidi's recipe. I had to make a few changes based on available ingredients. The gourmet section of my local grocery store has had bags of imported fregola, the pasta called for UNTIL I went to buy a bag and the endive in the produce section was limp and lifeless. My stomach kept thinking about the capers, eggs and hazelnuts and I knew I had to make it anyway, subbing in Israeli couscous for the fregola--toasting it up a bit before cooking and since Brussels sprouts were looking perky, I sliced them thinly in place of the endive. It worked like a charm and made a gorgeous and tempting bowl of pasta salad goodness. My changes to the recipe are in red below.

Heidi says, "Our neighborhood market stocks a particularly tasty brand of fregola, the tiny Sardinian pasta made from hard durum wheat flour—rolled, sun-dried, and toasted to a mix of shades of yellow, gold, and brown. The pasta is rustic and nutty, each grain with a raggy surface adept at catching flavor. Tossed with ribbons of endive, toasted hazelnuts, capers, and basil, this pasta makes a wonderful shoulder season recipe to consider as summer is winding down and the last of the basil is at the market."

Israeli Couscous with Capers, Eggs & Hazelnuts
Adapted from Fregola Sarda from Near & Far by Heidi Swanson
(Serves 4 to 6)

3 large eggs
fine-grain sea salt
1 1/4 cups fregola (or Israeli couscous, or orzo...)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and patted dry
1 medium clove garlic, smashed (I used 3 cloves)
1 lemon
2 or 3 medium endives, cored & cut into 1/2-inch ribbons (I used Brussels sprouts)
1/2 cup torn fresh basil
1/3 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
freshly ground black pepper

Place the eggs in a pot and cover with cold water by 1/2 inch or so. Bring to a gentle boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for exactly 10 minutes. Have a big bowl of ice water ready and when the eggs are done cooking, place them in the ice bath for 3 minutes or so—long enough to stop the cooking. Peel, grate on a box grater, toss with a couple pinches of salt, and set aside.

Bring at least 8 cups |of water to a boil, salt the water generously, add the fregola, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes (or follow the package instructions). You want it al dente, not at all mushy. Drain, rinse lightly with cold water, and shake off as much residual moisture as possible.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the capers and garlic and cook until the capers burst and start to brown. Remove from the heat, discard the garlic, and stir in 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

To serve, transfer the fregola to a large bowl or platter. Pour the contents of the skillet on top of the pasta and give it a good toss. Add the zest from the lemon and about 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice—a good, generous squeeze. Add the endives, basil, and most of the hazelnuts and toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning before finishing with the grated eggs and the remaining hazelnuts.

Notes/Results: What a great combination of ingredients--unique but simple and fresh. I don't think my changes impacted the recipe negatively at all. It's a great combination of textures--the softer pasta and egg contrasting against the crisp sprouts and hazelnuts. The lemon, garlic, and basil keep it simple but fresh. It made me happy to look at it and even happier to eat it. I will make this again--once the fregola comes back into stock. ;-) 

I'm linking this dish up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Picture Perfect--dishes that look good on the plate. You can see the photogenic dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post. 

I am also linking this sandwich up to this week's Souper Sundays, hosted weekly here at Kahakai Kitchen. If you aren't familiar, Souper Sundays is my weekly soup tribute that includes sandwiches, and salads and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to share a soup, salad, or sandwich post that week. You can see the details for joining in on the current weekly post here--we would love to have you!

Happy Aloha Friday!


  1. I love capers. Glad you made it to share with what you could find!

  2. When I was looking over the books trying to figure out what to make for this week there was a recurring theme: toppings. Sometimes I think what draws us in is colorful toppings spilling out onto the plate or just plain jazzing things up. Such is the case with your dish and mine this week!

    I love the changes you made. I think you kept all the color and texture that she captured in her recipe. Looks very pretty. I'd love a bite!


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