Fregola with tomatoes and basil

A simple, full-flavoured pasta salad works as a side dish or meal in itself.


I'm always happy with food which doesn't have to be cooked against the clock. I find myself cooking more and more in way that doesn't require three things to be made simultaneously, timed with Olympic precision to meet on a plate while still hot. My favourite new phrase seems to be "serve at room temperature". The leisurely approach, especially in summer, can be a boon.

Here, then, is a prime example. It's a pasta salad with just a handful of ingredients that works as either a side dish or a standalone meal, depending on how it fits into your day. The tomatoes can be made well ahead, days if necessary. (The recipe below features the quick way. You can also use their slow-roasted cousins.) The fregola – grain-like toasted pasta from Sardinia – is cooked and needs time to cool, so none of the briskness you normally need around pasta. And the basil - well, it's already magical and needs nothing more than a bit of chopping.

Food that's as simple as this to make needs tuning to make it sing, by which I mean you instead of complicated cooking, you put your attention into adjusting the way it's seasoned. The balance between the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and basil will change depending on season or brand as well as on your personal preference. Tasting, and making little adjustments to find the balance you like, is the way to really bring it to life.

Fregola with tomatoes and basil


For 2.

150g (6 oz) cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plus more for dressing
1 tablespoon ordinary olive oil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
75g (½ cup) fregola
extra virgin olive oil, for dressing
½ cup fresh basil leaves

Set your oven to 200°C (400°F).

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and arrange, cut side up, on a baking tray. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Sprinkle with dried oregano, and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Put the tray in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove and let them come to room temperature.

Cook the fregola in plenty of salted water. Some fregola takes 7 or 8 minutes, some takes 15: check the packet for a recommended time. Drain well, and spread out on a baking sheet with a fork, letting it cool down.

Cut the basil into ribbons by stacking some leaves, rolling them up tightly and slicing across. (Cheffy-word alert: that's a chiffonade.)

In a roomy bowl, toss the fregola, the tomatoes and the juices on their tray and the basil together. Taste it, and adjust the seasoning with a little more balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt or pepper as required.

Scatter with some whole basil leaves, if you're in a garnishing mood, and serve at room temperature.