Fregola Sarda with Braised Carrot Tops

My mommy came to Chicago this week.  I only got to see her a couple times, and not for very long.  And my little rain cloud was following me around.  But I got to escape my downward spiraling for a while, and relax.  And eat.  And go grocery shopping.  We all know how I adore grocery shopping.

Among my purchases Tuesday evening were purple, yellow, and classic orange baby carrots (not the baby-cut carrots that you get in a bag, which are trimmed down from mature carrots, but actual immature carrots), arugula, meyer lemons, and the star of this post, fregola sarda.  I'd never personally used this cute little pasta before, but I've heard Giada de Laurentiis rave about it.  It's a small, spherical semolina pasta from Sardinia, which is sundried and then toasted.  The toasting process makes this product unique among pastas, with a depth of flavor that would be difficult to recreate.  But if you can't find fregola in your grocery store, I'm sure you could try toasting some Israeli couscous in your oven to make a comparable substitute.

Also, what's with the carrot tops?  From my beet salad post you should know that I don't really like throwing away any edible parts of the ingredients I'm working with.  You'll get to see the actual carrots from which these leafy green tops came in a couple days when I post again, but let it be known that yes, you can eat carrot tops.  Now, there's been a lot of debate about this, with people arguing that they're toxic to eat.  The only thing toxic about the greens is that they're easy to confuse with those of another plant, like parsnips or Queen Anne's lace, which are actually toxic.  But if you're buying your carrots from your grocery store, you're not going to have a problem; and if you're getting them from a garden, just be careful to note from which plants your greens came.  Easy peasy.  

Fregola Sarda with Braised Carrot Tops

1/2 pound fregola sarda
Handful Kosher salt
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch carrots, tops removed (save the actual carrots for another purpose)
1 1/2 c stock (chicken or vegetable)
4 sprigs thyme
1 lime
5-6 large green olives, roughly chopped
Handful arugula
Hunk aged manchego cheese, broken into small pieces

Fill up a large stock pot halfway with water, then cover and turn the heat on to high.

Heat ~2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat.  Mince the garlic and add to the pan while the oil is still relatively cool.  Trim away the stems of the carrot tops from the leafy part, then chop this leafy part roughly (you can reserve the stems for making vegetable stock or something later, or just dispose of them).  Once the oil has come up to temperature and the garlic is starting to brown, add the carrot tops and a liberal dash of salt.  Saute ~4 minutes, allowing the leaves to caramelize, before adding the stock.  Strip the thyme leaves away from the stems and add to the pan, then cover and simmer aggressively over medium or medium-high heat until the tops have softened completely, 15-20 minutes.  

Once the water has come to a boil, add a handful of salt, then the fregola.  Once the pasta is al dente, reserve 1/2 c of the cooking water, then drain off the rest.  The braising liquid from the carrot tops will be the sauce for the dish, so if it's too thick add some of the reserved cooking water.  Immediately add the cooked fregola and juice from half the lime into the braising pan, tossing to thoroughly combine.  Off the heat, fold in the arugula, olives, and manchego, then salt and more lime juice to taste.  Serve with a final drizzle of olive oil.

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