Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fregola and Clams, Stolen from Lupa

The other night a friend and I unexpectedly wound up at Lupa for a light late night dinner. We ordered a few little things to start, Romano beans with ricotta (good), house cured tongue (ridiculously delicious), and clams with Fregola and basil. We then had the best Spaghetti alla Carbonara that I've ever eaten. A cloud of earthy pungency from the guanciale in every bite.

As good as everything was, it was the Fregola that I was thinking about the next day, a dish that had great potential but, if I may say so, was not perfectly executed. At Lupa the clams are very salty, I would say too salty. And the Fregola are perhaps cooked too long - they offer no resistance when chewed. Or perhaps they are using a brand that doesn't toast the pasta long enough, as they didn't have that nutty taste that I like. It didn't matter much because the dish tasted great - salty clams, Fregola, and the surprising lift of fresh basil. I decided that I had to try to make the dish at home.

I started with some Maxwell's Farm basil - very pungent. I salted and boiled a pot of water and cooked the Fregola for about 20 minutes, not longer. I like them to be just a little bit chewy.

I scrubbed a dozen Blue Moon clams and cooked them in a covered heavy-bottomed pot with butter, lemon, and a glug of white wine. I took the clams out of their shells and saved them and their cooking liquid.

I have no idea how they prepare the dish at Lupa. Onions? garlic? Neither? I decided that I wanted a little garlic and crushed red pepper as the flavor base. There was no red pepper in Lupa's version, but I wanted it. You got a problem with that?

Then I added the cooked Fregola and spoonful of their cooking liquid, then the clams and their cooking liquid, and simmered for a few minutes on very low heat, to try to marry the flavors and extract any remaining starch from the Fregola to get a little sauce. At the last moment I added the chopped basil and tossed the dish.

It was really quite good, and because my wife doesn't like clams, I got to eat the whole thing. One thing - the basil was not as lively and pungent in my version and I don't understand why. Should I have added it earlier and simmered it a bit?

What to drink with this dish? At Lupa, I was charged with selecting a wine and I tried to get something that would go with everything we ordered. I chose what I hoped would be a light and snappy red wine reminiscent of a Beaujolais, the 2007 Luigi Giusti Lacrima di Morro D'Alba, a wine from the Marche. It was fine, but not so great with the Fregola dish. At home I wanted a white, something saline and brisk.

I chose a Spanish wine (sorry MicheleColline, but I am not currently in possession of a bottle of Italian white wine), the 2009 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina, $20, De Maison Selections. This is made from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape, from very old vines - maybe 80 years old. It is only 10.5% alcohol, and it is dry as a bone. There is a little effervescence and the wine is crisp, salty, and absolutely refreshing. And if you step back and stop gulping it, which isn't easy to do, the old vine intensity and depth are unmistakable. It was a great match for the Fregola. The only problem was that although I got to eat all of the Fregola, BrooklynLady does in fact like this wine, so I had to share. I assure you that I will come up with some sort of scheme to avoid that in the future.


Joe Manekin said...

Yours is a predicament I share. Natalie doesn't eat the shellfish but she does like the txakoli. Maybe we should trade schemes/notes for the future.


michelecolline said...

The Spanish wine sounds great. I wish I could find it where I am currently living.

peter said...

I like to add some chopped basil during cooking, in successive pinches so the flavor really suffuses the dish. Then more at the end to garnish and add the green top notes. It comes out more basil-y that way I think.

I have yet to find any Txakolí up here, which is a pity since it's nightshade season and Basque flavors are called for.