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Razor Clams, Fregola & Sea Urchin Bottarga

By Chef-Owner at Maison Publique, Derek Dammann

A few years ago in Sardinia, I had this dish of fregola con arselle that blew my mind.

Derek Dammann

Derek Dammann

It’s a soup with regional, handmade semolina pasta and a particular local clam that you can’t find here. But as I ate it, I thought to myself that we have all of the resources back home to make a spectacular Canadian version of this. The cold waters off of the East coast of Canada produce the sweetest, most delicious razor clams I’ve ever tasted, so my favourite local version of the dish uses those. But razor clams are sometimes hard to find—so you can always use some other fresh clam, or even mussels—like in the picture. The process stays the same. For me the homemade fregola really ties the whole dish together, but if you don’t want to make it, you can buy it—or even substitute Israeli couscous, or some tiny pasta like orzo. I’ve included a cool technique for making sea urchin bottarga, but you can always just buy bottarga di muggine (grey mullet bottarga) instead. My version is intensely flavoured but not very soupy. If you prefer it that way, just double the amount of stock, or add water.

– Derek  Dammann

INGREDIENTS

Stock:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 red chilli peppers, seeded and minced
  • 2 kg (4½ lb) cherrystone clams, scrubbed and flushed
  • 125 mL (½ cup) white wine
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste

Fregola:

  • 500 mL mixed flour (see instructions)
  • Salted water

Razor clams:

  • 16 razor clams (or 4 portions substitute clams, or mussels)
  • 125 mL (½ cup) fregola, Israeli couscous or cooked pasta
  • 60 mL (¼ cup) olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 red chilli peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1 tsp minced thyme leaves
  • 60 mL (¼ cup) white wine
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp minced parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fine olive oil
  • Sea urchin bottarga
METHOD

Makes
4 Servings

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and then sweat the garlic and chillies (do not brown) until soft and fragrant— about two minutes. Add the clams and swirl them around for three minutes, then add the wine, cover the pot, and simmer until the clams open—about five minutes. Add the tomato paste and 750 mL (3 cups) of water, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Discard solids and reserve broth.

Traditional fregola is made from semolina—using durum that thrives in Sardinia’s challenging soil. There, they use a blend of fine and course. For my Canadian version, I use an equal parts mixture of Red Fife flour and sagamité, a native corn flour available through Quebec’s Societé-Orignal. Either way, you spread the mixed flour out on a tray, sprinkle some salted water on it, and run your fingertips through it in a circular motion until it forms small clumps, adding a little more water as necessary. You don’t want dough, just little pellets. Then sift it all through a tamis or other drum sieve to get rid of the excess flour and unformed pellets. Spread the larger pellets on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Bake until golden. Cool, then cook in boiling salted water for eight minutes, and drain.

To make the soup, scrub and flush the clams. For razor clams, run a paring knife down the length of the side of the shell that opens (opposite the hinge). Pry the clams open and remove the black vein inside—while leaving the clam meat in place. Place a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or sauté pan on low heat, add half the olive oil, then follow with the garlic, chilli and thyme. Sweat for one minute and then add the opened razor clams, meat side down. Cook gently for two minutes, making sure not to brown the garlic. Add the wine and increase heat to cook off the alcohol. Lower heat and remove the clams. Strip them from their shells, slice them cross-wise into equal bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Add the reserved broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in the tomato paste and add the fregola. Cook until soup thickens slightly—about five minutes. Return reserved clams to the pot, and stir in the parsley. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Distribute soup between four warmed bowls and top each with shavings of bottarga and a drizzle of fine olive oil. Serve with lots of crusty bread.

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