During busy months of the year, guests at this sleek, cosmopolitan Northern Italian–style eatery have to negotiate the bump and grind of tourists near the entrance, which happens to flank the northern side of the popular Old City Market. It's a small price to pay. Inside awaits a deep red and tan marble oasis of urban tranquility and some of the best food the city has to offer, crafted by executive chef Eddie Moran.
The San Francisco native is a recent transplant to Charleston and Mercato, but he espouses old-fashioned classic technique in his kitchen. “First and foremost, I’m a cook, and I like to cook like they cook in Italy, using seasonal ingredients at all times,” says Eddie.
Simple, maybe, but amazingly subtle and layered, Eddie’s interpretations of the likes of Veal Cheek Ravioli with Wild Mushroom Sugo and soothing Baked Gnocco of Semolina and Parmesan and Fontina Cheeses with Fried Rosemary testify to his spot-on culinary instincts and his use of best-quality ingredients. This dynamic dish borrows from North Africa’s cupboard. Fregula, a Sardinian semolina wheat pasta that recalls Israeli couscous, wraps around a heady tomato sauce spiked with enticing notes of sweet and savory, balanced by the buttery qualities of always local shrimp. Best of all, it comes together in minutes.
Adapted from "The Charleston Chef's Table" by Holly Herrick.
- ½ pound fregula (Sardinian couscous)
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 white onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup thinly sliced leeks
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 6 anchovy fillets or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
- ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon harissa or 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1–1 ½ pounds extra-large (16–20 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 ¾ cups high-quality prepared marinara sauce
- ¼ cup currants
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- ¼ cup sliced caper berries
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Sturdy country-style Italian or French bread boule or baguette
Bring a large pot of water with 1 teaspoon salt to a boil over high heat. Add the fregula and cook 7 to 9 minutes, or until al dente. Drain well, reserving 2 cups of the pasta cooking water for the stew. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy nonreactive pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, leeks, and garlic and cook, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the oregano, anchovies, parsley, and harissa and stir, mashing the anchovies with the tines of a fork. Add shrimp and cook until they just begin turning pink, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook down until it has reduced by one-third. Mix the prepared marinara sauce with the reserved pasta water and add to the pot. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the cooked fregula, currants, pine nuts, and caper berries. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper. Stir well to combine and ladle the stew into individual soup tureens or large shallow bowls. Drizzle each lightly with olive oil. Serve with warm bread or enjoy it as is.