Despite its appearance, fregula is not a grain, but an ancient form of pasta from the island of Sardinia, where it's been popular since Ligurian navigators imported it from North Africa during the Middle Ages. The durum semolina pasta takes the form of tiny balls, traditionally formed by hand then dried and toasted to impart a nutty, wheaty flavour. Similar to Israeli couscous, 'Fregola Sarda' is more coarse and rough, making it flavourful and slightly chewy where couscous is light and fine. And unlike barley, rice or lentils, fregula cooks quickly and can be prepared in less than 10 minutes. Combined with a fragrant Chermoula-inspired gremolata of roasted cumin seeds, garlic, cilantro, parsley, lemon zest, smoked cayenne, paprika and olive oil, the mixture is added to caramelized butternut squash for a dramatic medley of colour, texture and flavour. Served with pan-seared Sea Bass filets and garnished with fresh baby sprouts, this is a healthy and delicious dish anytime of the year.
Pan-Seared Sea Bass with Fregola, Butternut Squash & Pine Nuts
6 Sea Bass filets, about 5 oz each with skin on
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, halved and seeded
1 lb fregola sarda or Israeli couscous
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 medium cloves garlic
3 cups roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon hot paprika
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 cup toasted pine nuts
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Purple radish sprouts, or similar, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 475°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cut the squash into a rough 3/4-inch dice and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Toss with about 2 tablespoons olive oil, a generous pinch of sea salt and roast for 20-25 minutes or until tender and caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
Cook the fregola sarda in boiling water for 10-11 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and return to the pot, then set aside and keep warm. Meanwhile, in a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds for a minute or two, or until they start to make a popping sound, then transfer to a food processor. Add the garlic, a big pinch of sea salt and chopped herbs in batches, and pulse until a chunky paste forms. Add the paprika, cayenne, the zest of 1 lemon, and 4 tablespoons olive oil, and stir to combine then set aside.
To the pot with the fregola, add the butternut squash, the juice of 2 lemons, the charmoula, and the toasted nuts. With a wooden spoon, toss gently to combine, being careful not to mash the squash, then cover and keep warm.
Season the fish with a little salt and pepper. Heat a large frying pan until very hot, then add 2 tablespoons of oil. Lay the fish fillets in the pan, skin-side down. Reduce the heat to medium, and leave the fish to cook for 3-4 minutes, undisturbed, until the flesh has cooked two-thirds of the way up and the skin is crisp and brown. Using a spatula, flip the fillets over, and cook the flesh side for about 2 minutes until just done, basting the skin with the oil in the pan as it cooks. Leave to rest on a warm plate, skin-side up, and baste with the hot oil and juices from the pan.
To serve, spoon a small mound of fregola into the middle of 6 pre-warmed dinner plates and top each with a sea bass filet, skin-side up, and garnish with purple radish sprouts.