As chef Luigi Crisponi stood in his Santa Rughe restaurant in Sardinia, he insisted there was nothing he can teach about s’erbuzzu. The brothy yet still thick soup — a specialty of the Italian island — is only made of greens, beans, and tiny, chewy nuggets of pasta.
“There is no recipe,” he said. “There’s just herbs.” As many as 14 herbs, in fact, many of them foraged bitter greens.
With a little perseverance, he gave in. White beans soak overnight, then slowly simmer with a bit of browned pancetta. Then the greens, finely chopped, are simmered until the beans are ready. Just before serving, the cheese and a bit of fregola — the small, pellet-like pasta Sardinia is known for — are stirred in. Just enough to thicken the broth.
It was bold, yet fresh, herbal and light, characteristics we mimicked for the recipe in our book “Tuesday Nights Mediterranean,” which features weeknight-friendly meals from the region. We narrowed the list of herbs and greens to those we felt had the most impact: parsley for grassiness, tarragon for sweet anise notes and arugula for pepperiness. We also used pancetta to build a savory backbone and ricotta salata cheese, as Sardinians do, for complexity.
If you can’t find fregola, substitute an equal amount of pearl couscous, but cook it for only five minutes before adding the beans, parsley and garlic. And if ricotta salata is not available, finely grated pecorino Romano is a reasonable swap, but halve the amount.
Sardinian Herb Soup with Fregola and White Beans (S’erbuzzu)
Start to finish: 45 minutes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
3 to 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems minced, leaves roughly chopped, reserved separately
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
¾ cup fregola (see headnote)
15 1/2-ounce can large white beans, such as butter beans, rinsed and drained
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces ricotta salata cheese (see headnote), crumbled (¾ cup)
4 ounces baby arugula (about 6 cups lightly packed), roughly chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh tarragon, chopped
In a large pot over medium, heat the oil and pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the parsley stems and fennel seeds, then add the wine and 1 teaspoon pepper, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring, until most of the moisture has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the broth and bring to a boil over high. Stir in the fregola and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer, until the fregola is just shy of tender, about 10 minutes. Add the beans, garlic, parsley leaves and half of the ricotta salata, then continue to cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat to maintain a bare simmer, until the fregola is fully tender, about another 10 minutes.
Off heat, stir in the arugula and tarragon, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with the remaining ricotta salata and drizzled with additional oil.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap
Christopher Kimball, The Associated Press