Sardinian Salad with Seafood and Couscous

Panzanella Sarda con Fregola e Frutti di Mare

I like to call this Sardinian salad panzanella after the Tuscan bread salad of that name. In this instance, Sardinia has gone Tuscany one better by using fregola, Sardinians’ word for what we know as couscous. The bread Tuscans use in panzanella really must be good, stale, authentically compact Tuscan bread; otherwise, it doesn’t crumble as it should and the salad leaves something to be desired. Couscous, on the other hand, is available everywhere and is amazingly easy to make.

The other ingredient that makes this salad distinctive is the seafood. The flavor of seafood, which in Sardinia is remarkable, varies from one patch of sea to the next, and my choices are a free interpretation of the original components using what was available to me on the Atlantic coast. If, wherever you happen to be, different fish is available, use my ingredients list as a guide, and assemble a comparable assortment drawn from your local resources. Striped bass, which is difficult to buy by the slice even on the East Coast, can be replaced by any firm, white-fleshed fish with good flavor, such as monkfish or grouper or cod. If you have no scallops, use crabmeat or lobster or both. If you are comfortable using them, add boiled octopus tentacles, as long as they are tender. Strive for an interesting and balanced mix of textures, but stay away from strong-flavored, dark-fleshed fish and from fish with a flaky consistency, such as American sole.

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Ingredients

  • ½ pound fresh scallops, preferably bay
  • Salt
  • Wine vinegar
  • 8 medium shrimp in their shells
  • ½ pound whole small squid or 6 ounces sliced small squid rings
  • A ¼-pound slice of fine, white-fleshed fish such as striped bass
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • cup couscous (precooked medium-grain semolina)
  • 6 green olives in brine, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 6 Greek-style black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon sliced scallions (sliced into very thin rings)
  • 1 cup firm, ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and cut into fine dice
  • Black pepper ground fresh

Method

  1. Look the scallops over and cut away any remaining bits of the tough tendon that once attached them to their shells. Wash the scallops in cold water. Put water, a pinch of salt, and 2 tablespoons of vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Put in the scallops. If they are bay scallops, cook for 30 seconds after the water returns to a boil; cook for 1 minute if they are the larger sea scallops; then drain immediately.
  2. If you are using sea scallops, cut them all into ½-inch pieces; if you are using bay scallops, cut only the larger ones into two pieces. Put them into a salad bowl and set aside.
  3. Wash the shrimp in cold water, and boil them, cooking them for just 1 minute, following precisely the same procedure used for the scallops, above. When they have cooled off, shell them, remove the dark vein under their back, and cut them into six to eight small pieces, about inch each. Add them to the bowl containing the scallops.
  4. If you are using whole squid, clean them, separating the sacs from the tentacles. Divide the tentacles into two parts, cut the sacs into thin rings, and wash in cold water. If you are using prepared squid rings, wash them in cold water. Boil, following the basic procedure used for the scallops above, but omitting the salt. Cook for no more than 1 minute, draining them the moment their color turns from translucent to flat white. Add them to the scallops and shrimp.
  5. Boil the fish slice in water with salt and vinegar, following exactly the procedure used for the scallops. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes; drain; and when it has cooled off completely, remove the skin, cut the fish into ¼-inch pieces, and add it to the salad bowl.
  6. Put ½ cup of water in a small saucepan together with a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and bring it to a boil. Add the couscous, cover the pan, and remove from heat. After 5 to 6 minutes, uncover the pan and stir the couscous.
  7. Put the olives, parsley, couscous, scallions, and tomato in the salad bowl. Add salt, tablespoons of vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil, and liberal grindings of black pepper; toss thoroughly but gently; and taste and correct for salt and other seasonings. Serve at room temperature.

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