Imagine an old kitchen. A woman with one hand moving quickly inside a big ceramic bowl and the other one pouring a handful of semolina and some water drops alternatively.This is how artisanal Fregola was, and still is, made. (If imagination is not enough, take a look at the Fregola the making process!).
Fregola (or fregula) is a handmade small pasta shape that’s typical of Sardinia. It is very similar to North African couscous and it’s used to make wonderful soups or vegetable pasta dishes, but its best expression, and the most common one too, is in combination with seafood, such as mussels and clams. And this is my favourite version!
All these irregular pebble-shaped grains are made with three ingredients: semolina, water and… a remarkable effort. I’ve tried to make it, once: it was a great experience, feeling the semolina slipping in my hands and thinking about Sardinian food traditions and everything, but I can still remember some little ache, after all that time my arm was moving so quickly 😀
After making fregola, it is usually toasted in the oven, and this is why some grains have a darker colour than the others. Sometimes, the water used to make it is flavoured with saffron, which makes fregola yellow and even more yummy.
Here I show how to make one of my favourite pasta dishes!
Fregola with clams
Ingredients (serves 4)
- Fregola, 300gr. (or 10.58 oz) – You can find fregola here. This type is not artisanal, but it’s a good compromise.
- Clams, 800gr. (or 28.22 oz)
- Fresh tomatoes, 400 gr. (or 14.10 oz) – or alternatively, canned peeled tomatoes, 400gr.
- Garlic cloves, 2
- Chili pepper, 1
- Extra virgin olive oil, 4 tbsp
- Saffron, some pistils or a little pinch of powder (optional)
- Parsley, a small bunch
- Basil, some leaves
- Salt, to taste.
Peel the tomatoes and cut them into small pieces. To peel them easily, make a little cross cut at their bottom and plunge them into boiling water, leaving them into it for about 30 seconds; then take out the peel. To avoid this step, you can use canned peeled tomatoes instead.
Clean the clams with water and put them in a large pan. On a medium heat, heat them up but turn off the stove as soon as their shells are open, to avoid overcooking.
Take a clean tea cloth and put it on a colander. Use it to drain the clams from the sand and keep the water they will release in a bowl. Cover the clams and set them aside, to avoid that they dry out.
Now peel and cut the garlic and let it sauteé in the extra virgin olive oil with the chili pepper. Add the tomatoes and cook them for about 5 minutes on a medium heat.
It’s now the moment to add the fregola. On a low heat, let it cook into the tomato sauce for a couple of minutes, then start adding the clams water, as you would do with a risotto (have you seen this?). Clams water is salted, so it could be enough to season your dish. In case it isn’t, you may need to add some pinch of salt to it.
Continue to cook the fregola by adding the clams water, until it is cooked al dente. If you use artisanal fregola like I do, it should be ready in a few minutes! Taste it and add salt, if needed.
Don’t let all the liquid you pour in the pan to be absorbed completely by the fregola, as the result you want is a creamy dish. When it is cooked, add the opened clams, some chopped parsley and some basil leaves and give it a stir.
Your fregola with clams is now ready to be eaten, with a wonderful smell of sea and a gorgeous creaminess.
Serve the dish immediately, and enjoy!
Fregola with clams – Sardinian pasta dish
- Prep time: 20 minutes to prepare the ingredients, about 10/15 minutes to cook
- Yield: serves 4
- Tips: do not overcook the clams and do not let dry the fregola out. It has to be half way between a pasta dish and a soup!