Summer is here in Oakland, which means that I have been making really poor decisions when I go to the grocery store or farmers’ market. Instead of buying things to make a balanced meal, I mostly buy fruit. With no protein in the fridge, I’ve been looking to my pantry with new eyes this week come dinnertime.

As a result of this, I can introduce you to a fantastic pantry-only dish that I whipped up a night or two ago. I busted out my finest ingredients to make the meal shine, and I paired it with a nice salad and some mantovana olive oil bread (recipe adapted from the Bread Bible – also highly recommended – bake it right now and you’ll be happy you did).

I glanced at quite a few recipes online and took the best parts of each and a few of my own preferences to make this dish of Fregola with Christmas Limas and Saffron. Fregola (or fregula) is a lesser known pasta from Sardinia, Italy with a nutty flavor and a dense, chewy texture. It’s a little bigger than Israeli couscous, or about a third the size of gnocchi. You can find it at specialty pasta shops, and it ain’t cheap. I’ve been hoarding it, primarily because I never knew what to do with it, but now I’m going to stock up. It’s often paired with clams, which I’m determined to try sometime in the future.

The christmas limas are from Rancho Gordo. Mark introduced me to them and to Rancho Gordo one fateful Christmas. This is kind of like saying that someone introduced you to the symphony or the ballet. I hated beans as a child. The mere thought of them made my gagging reflex kick in. Who knew that heirloom beans could be so nuanced, beautiful, and flavorful, with just the right texture? It changed the way I eat, and I won’t go back. I do not have a lot of money, but I will spend money on quality food. Eating right is non-negotiable.

The saffron was expired (but still good!) and generously given to me by Ben’s mother. I buy shallots instead of onions when I want to treat myself. I usually have one on hand. I used red chili flakes (the type you put on pizza), but you could easily keep with the Mediterranean theme and treat yourself by nixing the flakes in the recipe and sprinkling on some urfa or another flavorful, finishing pepper before eating. This is a rich recipe. It isn’t about being hot, but flavorful.

This is one of the few recipes I’ve created by myself and am quite proud of. Please credit me if this is passed on. Thanks.

Lisa’s Fregola with Christmas Limas and Saffron

(Serves about 4, takes about an hour and a half – mostly for the beans)

1 c dried christmas limas
1 bay leaf
generous pinch of salt

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely diced

1 c vegetable broth (you can cheat and use bouillon. it’s only flavoring.)
1 c H20
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt (depending on saltiness of your broth)
a few grinds of black pepper
1 c dry fregola pasta
juice of 1/2 lemon

– Cook beans for one hour or until done (this means boiling them for an hour with the bay leaf and a little salt). Drain and set aside. You can use the same pot for the rest if you give it a quick rinse. Also, while the beans are cooking, I prep the other ingredients so I can just scrape them into the pot when the time comes.

– Saute oil, garlic, and shallot until soft and fragrant.

– Add broth, water, saffron, the same bay leaf or a new one, thyme, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and salt. Bring to boil. Turn down to simmer.

– Add fregola and beans. Give a quick stir and cover with the lid. Simmer for 12 – 15 minutes, checking the fregola to see when it’s done and adding a little water if necessary. It isn’t a soup though; it’ll soak up most of the water by the end.

– Squirt the lemon juice over it at the end. Serve with fresh parmesan or not.