Sardinian Couscous with Clams

At the time of writing, I confess you will need to go to an Italian deli or specialist food outlet for fregola, the sun-dried and toasted Sardinian couscous specified for this recipe. This is not an insurmountable obstacle, of course. What I suggest is that you buy a decent stock of the stuff (along with faro and any other more recondite pasta shapes you might be hankering after) in one go, so that you always have the wherewithal on hand. I wouldn't substitute regular couscous for the fregola (or "fregula," as it is sometimes written), which is rather more like dense pasta peas than semolina grains, and thus most comparable to the larger Middle Eastern or Israeli couscous, which could be used in its stead. However, if you can't find fregola, I would suggest you try a chunky soup-pasta shape such as ditalini, which is more readily available. Fregola itself, though, brings a distinct quality: when cooked, it certainly softens but also retains a singular chewiness and nuttiness, which is perfect in this light but clam-rich, spiced, and tomato-hued soup.
  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 40 min
  • Active: 40 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
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Ingredients

2 to 2 1/2 pounds clams, such as palourdes or manila

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 echalion or banana shallot, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3 cups light chicken broth (made up with less powder or concentrate to water than usual)

1/4 cup dry red vermouth

1 1/3 cups fregola

3 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus more for sprinkling

Directions

  1. Soak the clams in a large bowl of cold water, and sort through them, discarding any shells that remain open or are cracked or smashed.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan that comes with a lid, then add the chopped shallot, stirring for a minute, grate in (or mince and add) the garlic, and add the red pepper flakes, stirring again over the heat so that it sizzles, though not long enough to let the garlic brown.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, then add the broth and the vermouth and let it come to a boil.
  4. Add the fregola (it should be covered completely by the liquid) and let it simmer, still uncovered, for 10-12 minutes (or as instructed on the fregola package).
  5. Check that the fregola is nearly ready and then add the drained clams, and cover the pan with the lid. Let cook for 3 minutes at a fast simmer, then uncover the pan to check that the clams have opened. Any clams that, once cooked, stay closed should be discarded.
  6. Sprinkle in the chopped parsley and stir to let everything combine before ladling into 4 warmed bowls to serve, sprinkling with a little more chopped parsley as you go.

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