Fregola is a Sardinian pasta rolled into little balls, dried and then toasted, which gives it its distinctive nutty flavour. It is a perfect match in soups, mixed with seafood, or made like a risotto. Very fashionable at the moment, the pasta can be readily found at Italian and up-market grocery stores. Israeli couscous makes a good alternative.
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1 lb (500 g) large white shrimp in shell
2 cups fish, chicken or vegetable stock or water
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups passata (Italian tomato sauce in a bottle)
1 dried chili
2 tsp coriander seeds, cracked
2 tsp fennel seeds, cracked
1 cup fregola
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 leeks, white part only, sliced (1 1/2 cups)
1 tsp chopped garlic
3 cups packed baby spinach
1/4 cup slivered basil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
1/2 tsp saffron threads soaked in 1 tsp hot water
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch hot Spanish paprika
Whisk mayonnaise with garlic, saffron threads and soaking liquid, olive oil and paprika. Season with salt. Reserve.
Shell shrimps reserving shrimps and shells separately.
Combine stock, wine, passata, chili, coriander and fennel seeds in a medium pot. Add shrimp shells and bring to boil.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 10 more minutes or until flavourful. Strain and reserve sauce.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add fregola. Boil for eight minutes or until al dente. Drain and reserve.
Heat a large skillet over high. Add vegetable oil then shrimp. Cook shrimp one minute per side or until just pink. Remove to a plate.
Reduce heat to medium and add leeks. Sauté for two minutes, add garlic and sauté one more minute.
Add spinach and tomato/shrimp sauce and simmer for five minutes or until slightly thickened.
Return shrimp to pan and cook just until heated through. Stir in basil. Spoon shrimp and sauce over fregola.
Serve at once streaked with saffron aioli.