The good folks at Marx Foods have again sent me some interesting things to play with. The challenge this time was to take Fregola Sarda and combine it in a dessert with any two of the following: star anise, vanilla beans, or saffron.
Fregola Sarda is like Sardinian couscous - it's little irregular balls of pasta which have been unevenly toasted. So if there are more than four or five participants in this challenge, there's going to be a lot of conceptual overlap - there's only so many ways you can cook this, and we're all going to be drawing on a lot of the same flavors.
Dessert is not at all my specialty - I am the guy who uses transglutaminase to bond chicken skin to steaks, cures a country ham in my loft, smokes hominy for posole, makes six kinds of kimchi, I just don't play with desserts as often. I kept thinking, as you'd have to, of various "warm hot bowl of a thing" dishes - rice pudding, oatmeal, tapioca pudding, that kind of thing. But then I thought of calas - Louisianan doughnuts made with cooked rice.
Still didn't have anywhere specific to go with it, until I happened to be eating a grapefruit the day after finishing a huge project, and saw the ingredients on the table. Grapefruit. Calas. Saffron. Ohhh.
Fregola Sarda Calas with Saffron-Grapefruit Caramel
I wound up not using the star anise, so nevermind it being in the photo there, but I will say: Marx's star anise is far and away the best I've had. It must get stale easily in stores, because it never actually occurred to me before that I was using lackluster star anise. But this stuff is strong.
1/2 cup fregola sarda
1/2 cup cream
1 cup water
the seeds of 1 vanilla bean (slit it open, scrape them out)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 - 1/2 cup flour
pinch of baking powder
Heat the fregola sarda, cream, water, vanilla bean, and sugar together in a pan over medium-low to medium heat, until the fregola sarda has soaked up the liquid and become very tender. You don't want it al dente, you want it really cooked through and soft, without being mushy. Add a little more water if it gets dry; cook it a little longer on high heat if it finishes cooking and has some liquid left.
Let cool. You can infuse the cream for the caramel while it's cooling, and then make the caramel while the calas are frying.
Once it's cooled, add the egg, flour, and baking powder, preheat your deep-fryer to 365, and fry in small spoonfuls for about 6 minutes, flipping if necessary. Drain and serve with caramel.
1/2 cup cream
Tablespoon grapefruit zest
big pinch of saffron
1/2 cup sugar
Heat cream, saffron, and grapefruit zest on low heat and hold for 15-20 minutes while saffron and grapefruit steep. Strain cream.
Add sugar to pan, heat on medium-high and allow to caramelize, and then remove from heat, reduce heat to low, and add the infused cream. Stir to dissolve caramelized sugar. Return to heat. If you have a pourable sauce, then you're done. If the cream reduced too much while infusing or when you added it to the hot sugar, you may need to add a touch more fresh cream in order to dilute the caramel enough to give you a sauce instead of a hard candy.
The bitterness of the grapefruit zest and the saffron work with that of the burnt sugar; that's what brings everything together, and offsets the sweet vanilla chewiness of the hot calas.
Infused cream on the left; cooked fregola sarda on the right.
Cooked fregola sarda calas.
Calas with saffron-grapefruit caramel.