The Italian Ingredient Swaps For Paella Algherese

When you think of a classic paella recipe, you may imagine a spiced seafood and rice dish, potentially eaten on the shores of the Costa Brava in Spain with a giant glass of red sangria in hand. While paella did originate on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, more than one country boasts this hearty, versatile meal today. Travel a little east to Italy, and you'll come across paella algherese, aka, Sardinian paella.

There are many similarities in this Italian version to the original Spanish dish. For one, a variety of protein options may be in attendance, including chorizo, sausage, chicken, squid, shrimp, mussels, fish, cockles, or prawns. Some types even include specialty seafood options like mullet roe (fish eggs), which are also called bottarga. The additional ingredients aren't too far off from the Spanish version either. In a typical paella algherese recipe, you may find veggies like peppers, tomatoes, peas, and onion, and seasonings like salt, pepper, parsley, and saffron. 

Some recipes include up to 1 cup of white wine, which can also be a staple in Spanish paella. But where paella algherese truly differentiates itself is in its chosen grain. While rice is used in the former, the Italian version uses — what else? — pasta. Specifically, fregola pasta, which is formed into small pearls of dough and looks more like couscous than long noodles.

Paella algherese is a recent invention

The similarities between Spanish paella and paella algherese are no coincidence. Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy, and Alghero, its main port city, were under Catalan and later Spanish rule for nearly 400 years. While this crossover between populations primarily occurred before the 20th century, the sharing of each region's cuisines continues today. In fact, Alghero only invented its take on paella back in 2003 as a dish meant to celebrate the city's 900th anniversary.

When cooking up paella algherese, Sardinians decided to throw in some decidedly local ingredients. Fregola (also called fregula), for instance, is a traditional Sardinian pasta that can be traced back to the island during the 10th century. The name comes from the Latin word for 'crumb,' likely referring to the pasta's small size and shape. Bottarga, which is included in many paella algherese recipes, used to be a staple meal for poor Sardinian fishermen, and is often included on top of various fregola pasta recipes. And if you visit Alghero, you'll get to taste a freshly prepared version made with local seafood from the coastal city.

How to make and serve paella algherese

For a dish with so many ingredients and protein options, paella algherese isn't too difficult to whip up. First, you're going to want to prep all your meat, seafood, and veggies. If you're using mussels, you'll need to clean and then steam them until they open. And you'll want to crumble sausage, dice chicken breast, and chop veggies into uniform bite-size pieces. From there, everything gets cooked together in oil in an extra-large paella pan; typically the order goes meat, veggies, fregola, then seafood, with layers of chicken or vegetable broth in between to prevent burning. Spices (including saffron) are added with the vegetables.

Once everything is fully cooked through, take the paella pan off the stove and let it sit for a few minutes so the fregola pasta gets a chance to soak up all those meat and seafood juices. Feel free to sprinkle a little parsley, salt, pepper, or more bottarga on top along with an olive oil drizzle. As for presentation, serve your masterpiece piping hot right out of the pan.