Hot Side or Salad – A Quick and Delicious Pasta Recipe

Snap your fingers, and it’s almost that fast!  We were minutes away from putting steaks on the grill when I started thinking about what to have on the side.  Actually, it went something like this……

Jerry: What are you having with the steak?

Tami: Something good.

Jerry: Like what?

Tami: You’ll see…..and you’ll like it…. (while heading down to see what might jump out of the fridge or off the pantry shelf).

Fortunately, the fridge yielded one and half bell peppers and a little clump of broccoli left on the stem, and the pasta bin held part of a bag of fregola sarda.  It seemed like a combination with definite potential.

And the result: he saw, he liked, we ate.  I liked it, too (a lot!).

If you’ve never had fregola before, try to find some.  Fregola is a solid little pea-sized toasted nugget of pasta from Sardinia, and it is delicious.  I came across it once when I wandered into an Italian store that seems to be the supplier for all the Italian restaurants here in our part of Germany (really, they sell 40-liter cans of olive oil!).  After I bought the pasta, I looked it up online and several of the recipes I found said to use fregola or Israeli couscous….so that might be something else to look for (but if you don’t find it, any small sturdy pasta will do).

This dish is as fast as they come – by the time the pasta is cooked, you can have the vegetables ready  Then you simply toss everything around in some hot olive oil, season, and it’s ready to serve.  We really liked the peppers grilled, but if you don’t happen to have the grill fired up anyway, you can sauté the peppers briefly in the olive oil before stirring in the cooked pasta and broccoli.

Fregola with Broccoli and Bell Peppers

  • 1 cup fregola sarda
  • 1-2 bell peppers (I used a whole yellow one and half a red one), cut into quarters
  • Broccoli florets – about a cup, plus the peeled and diced broccoli stem if you want
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar if you are making a salad from the leftovers (if there are leftovers, that is)

Put a couple of quarts of water on to boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Place the peppers skin side down on a hot grill with the lid down and cook for a couple of minutes, until the skin starts to blister and turn black.  Turn and cook on the other side for a few minutes longer, then remove to a small bowl and cover with a plate or lid to trap steam inside where it will loosen the peppers’ skins.

By this time the water should be boiling, so add a teaspoon of salt and start the pasta cooking (it will take about 12 minutes for fregola).

Cut up the broccoli into small florets, and peel and chop the stem.  The peppers will still be pretty warm, but you should be able to handle them now.  Pull of the skin (or scrape off with a knife) and cut into bite-sized pieces.  If you are sautéing instead of grilling the peppers, there is no need to peel – just go ahead and cut them into smaller pieces.

When the pasta has about three minutes to go, add the broccoli florets and stem pieces to the same pan with the pasta.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it in a colander.  Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the same pan (and quickly sauté the peppers if you didn’t grill them).  Return the pasta and broccoli to the pan (along with the grilled peppers) and stir gently to coat and let the pepper juices blend in.  Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.  I didn’t think of it until after we finished dinner, but a quick snip, snip, snip of fresh chives on top would be a nice touch if you have them.

    

    

If you are lucky enough to have some left over, drizzle it with a good balsamic vinegar, and just like that you have a salad to pack along for lunch.  Dress it up if you like with halved cherry tomatoes and/or a few olives or capers (or artichoke hearts, mmmmm!), and if you happen to have a little chunk of montasio or asiago cheese to cube up and mix in, you can look forward to a satisfying full-meal deal.

Of course, you can always make the whole recipe into a salad to start with – either way, you’ll like it!

Tami

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