When life gives you lemons, make fregola salad with broccoli and onions

Fregola Salad with Broccoli and Cipollini Onions Jill Blanchette/The Day

As I write this, Sandy has come and gone and taken with her two of our trees and all of our electricity. Other than that, we were very lucky and are counting our blessings as we try to eat everything in our refrigerator before it spoils.

There's some leftover meatloaf, made by my husband, some egg salad, some chicken salad made in the dark last night from what was left of a rotisserie chicken. There's cheese, milk, eggs, yogurt, Kozy Shack chocolate pudding (that'll be gone before this is written), and finally, there's some leftover Fregola Salad with Broccoli and Cipollini Onions.

Fregola is a small, round Italian pasta that is dried and toasted. It looks like a bunch of little pearls that range in color from creamy white to dark brown. The best thing about it is its texture, tender and chewy, so that's the goal when you're cooking it. Set the timer for the minimum suggested cooking time, then taste and taste and taste until it's just right.

I have found fregola in a couple of local grocers, Sandy's Fruit and Vegetable Emporium in Westerly, and I think at the Big Y in Groton. Sometimes it's reasonably priced and sometimes it's not. But you can use orzo or, perhaps a better substitute, Israeli coucous, sometimes called pearl couscous. There's a really good whole wheat variety made by Rice Select that comes in a 10-ounce plastic jar and is available in most supermarkets locally.

But even if you substitute, still cook the pasta so it remains chewy. That's the secret with this recipe. The pasta's toothy texture plays off the other ingredients in the dish, the beans and sweet onions and the broccoli, to make a delightful mouthful.

Feel free to make other substitutions as well. Cipollini onions look like a small, yellow onions that have been flattened into tiny flying saucers. They are pungent and tear-enducing when you peel them, but they are extra sweet when cooked. I think you could substitute any other onion here.

Don't skimp on the fresh lemon juice and zest or the fresh chopped chives. I think those flavors really make this salad sing.

I first saw this recipe on one of Giada De Laurentiis' television shows. For a TV chef, she inspires a surprising amount of controversy. Men seem to enjoy her particular combination of good looks and culinary skills while some women I know are downright opposed to De Laurentiis' brand of glam-cuisine.

For me, the proof is in the recipe, and this is a good one. Enjoy!

Fregola Salad with Broccoli and Cipollini Onions

For the salad:

1 pound fregola (orzo or Israeli cousous also would be delicious)

2 cups (10 ounces) cipollini onions, peeled and halved, or quartered if large (or any other onion, coarsely chopped)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound broccoli, cut into small florets

1/3 cup water

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

For the dressing:

2 large lemons, zested and juiced

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons honey (I was out so I used agave syrup)

3½ teaspoons salt, divided (I used less)

1¼ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided

1 cup (about 1 ounce) chopped fresh chives

For the salad: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and place in a large serving bowl.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds until aromatic. Add the broccoli and sauté for 1 minute.

Add the water and scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan and cook until the broccoli is tender, about 4 minutes.

Add the beans and cook for 1 minute until warmed through. Transfer the onion mixture to the serving bowl with the fregola. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss to combine.

For the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the zest and juice from two lemons, olive oil, honey, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Whisk until smooth. Stir in chives.

Pour the dressing over the fregola and toss well until coated. Season with remaining 3 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and serve. (I suggest tasting and then adjusting the salt and pepper to your preference. I did not add additional salt at this point.)

Original recipe from Giada De Laurentiis.

Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments and recipes with her at j.blanchette@theday.com.

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