Recently, I was invited to participate in a Marx Foods Blogger Challenge. The Marx Foods site, in case you aren't familiar, is full of quality, bulk food products--some of it pretty hard to find, some of it exotic (kangaroo?), and all of it top grade. They sell organic fruits and vegetables, free-range meats, truffles, desserts---you name it. This particular challenge sounded like a lot of fun, so I was pretty excited when my package of goodies arrived. My mission was to create an original dessert recipe using Fregola Sarda and at least one of the other ingredients: Vanilla Beans, Star Anise and Saffron Threads.
Almost like being on an episode of Chopped, right? Except the time limit is a lot longer. :)
Fregola, what? Don't feel bad. I didn't know what the heck it was either. Fregola Sarda is an Italian couscous. But it's not really just couscous--it's couscous on steroids. And it's toasted. Sarda refers to the part of Italy (Sardinia) where the Fregola is a staple. So, now we know what we are dealing with--a pasta, so to speak.
Isn't it beautiful? The rough exterior of the Fregola allows sauces to cling to it, and the toasting process gives it a nice nutty flavor.
I knew right away that I wanted to make a custard or a pudding of some sort. One of the first things that came to mind was a classic noodle pudding--a sweet kugel, if you will. The obvious other ingredient to add to that would be the vanilla bean, of course, but one whiff of the licorice-y Star Anise, and I knew that I wanted to incorporate that in my dessert, as well. So, without further ado, here is my creation:
Sweet Apricot Fregola Kugel with Spiced Cornflake Streusel
1 cup Fregola Sarda
2 cups Whole Milk
1 Vanilla Bean
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup Ricotta Cheese
½ cup Apricot Preserves
1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
½ cup Golden Raisins
2 cups Corn Flakes, slightly crushed
½ cup Butter, softened
¼ cup Granulated Sugar
1 Star Anise, ground*
¼ teaspoon Cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 ° F; butter a 1 ½ quart baking dish.
Combine the Fregola and milk in a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and add all of it (seeds and bean) to the milk. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the Fregola is al dente, and the mixture is thickened and creamy. Take out and discard the vanilla bean and set the Fregola aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, ricotta cheese, apricot preserves, sugar and raisins. Fold in the Fregola mixture, stirring until well combined. Spread into the buttered casserole dish.
For the topping, place the corn flakes and the butter in a medium bowl. Stir the sugar, star anise and cinnamon together and add to the cornflakes and butter. Use a fork to blend the ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the kugel.
Bake the kugel in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is a golden brown. Cool for a few minutes before serving.
*For tips on how to grind whole spices, visit the marxfoods.com site: How to Grind Whole Spices (I used a spice grinder for the Star Anise)
I have to tell you--I loved this stuff! The Fregola had just the right texture, you could see the bits of the vanilla bean, and the topping was buttery, crunchy, and had just a hint of licorice-y Star Anise.
I was tempted to use the last ingredient, the saffron, in a whipped cream topping, but something told me to leave well enough alone. Sometimes less is more--the kugel was perfect by itself.
On December 5th, you'll be able to see who my competition is in this challenge. Marx Foods will be posting all of the recipes and they will be put to a vote. There will be two winners--one by vote, and one by judges. How fair is that? The two winners will each receive $100 worth of baking goods. Wish me luck!
Disclaimer: Marx Foods sent me samples of their products in order to participate in this contest. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.