This Chicken Soup with Fregola was something I ate when I visited Italy. I stayed in the Abruzzo region - known for, amongst other culinary delights, spectacular pasta products. I'd never eaten a soup quite like it, and I'd never before experienced it's most alluring ingredient - Fregola.
What is Fregola?
Fregola are tiny balls of durum wheat pasta that have been hand-rolled and then baked. They're cooked, in water, like pasta and used with sauces and in soups and salads. I ate this particular soup after a long, tiring day of trailing around the Majella mountains. On this day, we'd left it a bit late for lunch so, as usual we 'panic picked' an unassuming restaurant in a teeny village on the way home.
There wasn't a soul in the place except us and the staff. The young waitress was lovely, but didn't speak a word of English. After pretending to understand what she rattled off to us, we nodded enthusiastically and she left. "I guess we just ordered" I thought.
We were there in early Spring, so it was still pretty chilly up in the mountains, so we were happy to see our first course arrive, steaming and in a small bowl. From the first heavenly spoonful, I was hooked.
The thick, creamy broth was intensely chicken flavoured and dotted with tiny strands of chicken and diced vegetables. I don't remember clearly (because I ate it so fast), but I think the version we ate featured onion, celery, carrots and a little mushroom. My version is a little different, due to what was in my fridge.
The fregola stood out in the dish - at first I thought it was Israeli cous cous but another lady, who did speak a bit of English, informed me it was named Fregola and it was produced in that village. I've long since forgotten the name of the village which is irritating, as I'd love to return to the restaurant someday, but failing a miracle of memory, I guess I just need to leave it as a once in a lifetime experience.
Chicken Noodle Soup, Italian style.
As for the soup, it left a lasting impression - Abruzzo's answer to chicken noodle soup. As was the case for all of my meals in Italy, this was just the beginning of a huge lunchtime feast. The soup was filling in itself, but that didn't stop them bringing out courses of meats, fried cheeses, ravioli and finally a saffron panna cotta that I still dream about. But it was the Chicken Soup with Fregola that I researched and made within days of returning.
It's a staple now. When the weather turns, I turn to fregola!
How to make my Chicken Soup with Fregola
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
- 1 medium yellow onion (peeled and diced)
- 1 stick celery (diced)
- 1 red pepper (capsicum), diced
- 2 garlic cloves (peeled and chopped)
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano
- 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 3/4 cup fregola sarda
- Salt & pepper
- 1/2 cup fresh cream
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan until hot over a moderate heat until hot. Add the chicken thighs and fry them until all the sides have browned, around 5 minutes. Remove from the pan.
- Add the onion, celery, red pepper and garlic for about 5 minutes until soft.
- Return the chicken to the pan along with about 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley (stalks and leaves) and the oregano. Season with about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and some black pepper. And pour over about 1.5 litres of water. Bring the soup to boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently for 1 hour, until the chicken is tender.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and leave to cool. Add the fregola to the soup and cook according to the packet instructions, minus 1 minute.
- Using your fingers or two forks, shred the chicken from the bone and add to the soup. Discard the bones. Pour in the cream and simmer for 2 minutes, before removing from the heat. Check for seasoning and that's it! I like to pop on the lid and leave for 30 minutes for the fregola to swell up and absorb more liquid before eating, but it's good to go if you haven't got the time or stamina to wait. When you're good to go, sprinkle with a little more chopped parsley and if you have some, a sprinkling of Parmigiana Reggiano cheese is just the ticket!
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