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If You Like Pearl Couscous, Try Fregola

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Fregola (known as fregula in the local dialect) is an ancient handmade pasta produced on the island of Sardinia, where it has been made the same way since the 14th century. Semolina or durum wheat flour is poured into a special terracotta bowl, and tepid water (often mixed with saffron and a pinch of salt, with or without an egg yolk) is dribbled onto the flour with one hand, while the other rubs the liquid through the flour and against the bottom of the bowl, creating small, irregular-shaped blobs of pasta. (It is worth watching how a Sardinian nonna does this before trying it yourself.) Unsurprisingly, this pasta's name is connected to the way it is made: sfregolare means to crumble or reduce to crumbs. It is left to dry overnight (or longer) and then briefly toasted in an oven.

Hand roll your fregola, always.
Hand roll your fregola, always. Photo by Emiko Davies

Although fregola is often compared to ptitim, also known as Israeli or pearl couscous, for its appearance, it is more similar to traditional couscous in terms of how it is made (by hand, sun-dried). Israeli couscous was developed in the 1950s during a food shortage and has only ever been factory-made.

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Fregola, like other pint-sized pasta types—risoni (rice-shaped) and stelline (tiny star shapes) come to mind—suits a sauce that is more like a stew or a soup, as it is often cooked directly in a sauce. In fact, you can think of it rather like a risotto, or a farrotto (farro that is cooked in the style of risotto), as that is the consistency you are looking for.

Fregola sarda stars in this classic Sardinian clam stew.
Fregola sarda stars in this classic Sardinian clam stew. Photo by Emiko Davies

By far, the most popular way to eat fregola is with shellfish, in particular with arselle (small, sweet wedge clams) in a tomato-based sauce aromatized with garlic, parsley, dry white wine and the liquid from the clams themselves. At the restaurant Il Caminetto in Cabras on the west coast of Sardinia, instead of using tomato passata (you can also use a whole fresh chopped tomato), they use a handful of chopped, sundried tomatoes, which is worth trying too.

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Sardinian Clam Stew With Fregola

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Serves 3

Fregola

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  • 1 1/4 cups (200 grams) semolina or durum wheat flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup water, or as needed
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Clam Stew

  • 2 pounds (1 kg) clams
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 handful parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup (250 ml) tomato passata (you can also substitute with a whole fresh tomato, chopped)
  • 1 cup water or as needed
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Have you tried—or will you try—making fregola from scratch? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: Italy, Regional Italian Food, Sardinia, fregola, clams, handmade pasta