What was that dish we used to eat that I loved? Can I recreate it? Those seem to me to be nagging questions these days as, for some reason that I can't explain, I have been time traveling in my mind, craving dishes I ate when I was growing up but have either forgotten about or have fallen out of any regular rotation on my "what's for dinner?" list.
One such experience lately occurred when out of the blue I could hear the excited voices of my extended family during my youth saying somewhat in awe that we were going to have farfel with our dinner. I remembered what it looked and tasted like, but had no idea what it was. My research initially took me to Passover recipes for Matzo farfel, but that most definitely was not what I remembered. I kept visualizing what it looked in my mind's eye, sort of like a barley dish, but I knew it was not barley. Undaunted, I continued my research until I came across "egg barley noodles", a Jewish Eastern European pasta formed into the shape of barley. I read about how people were preparing it, and I knew I was home. The problem was finding it. I couldn't find a market near me that carried it, but discovered that it was often used in Hungarian cooking. I was resigned to visit a large Hungarian Market some distance away that seemed to carry it, but when I called them I couldn't get through, so Instead I turned to trusty Amazon. In order to maximize the price value, I ended up ordering 8 bags of it which will no doubt last me a lifetime.
The good news is that I made it using some suggestions and my memory and lo and behold, when I tasted it I could hear an excited voice inside my head exclaiming FARFEL!
I was still basking in my success, when my daughter, Lauren, returned from a culinary adventure in Sydney Australia with her boyfriend Jeff. I listened with rapt attention as they described the wonderful food they had sampled but I was all but breathless when they described a dish they had eaten at a Sardinian restaurant there. It was a cheese (most likely Pecorino) broth with fregola. The way she described it, the fregola sounded very much like farfel. Intrigued, I began to research what fregola was and possible ways to cook it. It turns out that it is a Sardinian small round pasta that. like farfel, is first dried and toasted and then cooked in some sort of liquid.
The difference between the two pastas is that Fregola is made from stirring water with your fingers into semolina to create the small balls. Then the pasta is dried out and even toasted in an oven. Once dried it can also be toasted in oil before adding liquid to it or boiling it to use it in a dish.
Farfel is an egg pasta made from durum wheat that is left to harden a bit and then chopped into small barley sized pieces, or grated into pieces on a hand held grater. It can be dried out in a similar way to fregola, but even when it is dried, it should be toasted again in the oven or browned in oil in a skillet to add a nutty flavor before cooking it in liquid.
While the technique to make them and their flavor and preparation is very similar, the ingredients in each are a little different.
This brought me to my next revelation: Who knew the Eastern European Jews were really Sardinian at heart? Then I remembered. In order to explain the similarity in personality between Jews and Italians in the U.S., people kiddingly used to say that Jews were really just Italians who lost their recipes on the way over. It would seem that, should I accept it, it is now my mission to recover them !