If you have ever been to Sardinia, you may have come across this delicious seafood dish. Fregola with clams is probably the most well-known Sardinian seafood pasta recipe. It’s unique to the island, so not a dish you would usually come across anywhere else in Italy.
It’s probably more simple than you think to make too! Many people think of clams as something to eat in a restaurant. But, actually, clams and mussels aren’t difficult to cook and they don’t leave a fishy smell in your kitchen.
Fregola with clams, also known as “fregola con arselle” or “fregola con vongole,” is a traditional Sardinian dish originating from the Italian island of Sardinia. The recipe combines fregola, a type of small, round, toasted pasta similar to couscous, with clams cooked in a flavorful broth.
Fregola is an ancient Sardinian pasta, possibly dating back to the 10th century. However, the first historical document to mention it is a 14th century statute of the millers of Tempio Pausania, a town in Northern Sardinia.
The recipe for fregola with clams is believed to have been inspired by Sardinia’s abundant seafood resources, which have been a staple of Sardinian coastal cuisine for thousands of years.
Apart from the clams and the pasta, this fregola with clams recipe has only a few other ingredients. All you need is some garlic, olive oil, tomato concentrate and parsley! Yes that’s it.
- Fregola: You can use either fresh or dried fregola in this recipe. Fresh fregola tends to cook a bit faster than its dried counterpart, but both will deliver delicious results.
- Clams: Choose fresh, live clams with tightly closed shells or those that close when tapped. Discard any with cracked shells or that don’t respond to tapping, as they may not be fresh. The fresh clams should have a mild, briny, ocean-like smell and not fishy.
- Garlic: Look for firm garlic with intact skin and no dark spots; fresh garlic will add a delicious, aromatic flavor to the dish.
- Olive oil: Use good-quality extra virgin olive oil to enhance the dish’s flavor; it adds much more depth and richness than regular cooking oils.
- Tomato concentrate: Pick a high-quality tomato concentrate like Mutti or Cirio, as it will impart a rich and intense tomato flavor to the dish, enhancing its overall taste.
- Parsley: Use fresh parsley and not dried parsley. Fresh parsley adds a vibrant, fresh notes to the dish; choose bright green, crisp leaves for the best flavor and appearance.
Traditionally, Sardinians make this fregola with clams recipe using clams they call ‘arselle’. These are small clams known as wedge clams in English. This mollusk is native to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast of Western Europe.
I made this fregola with clams recipe with a type of small clam that Italians call lupini or lupini di mare. These are a variety of small clam (striped venus clams in English) which are a popular choice for Italian pasta with clams. In US, littlenecks would work too. They are the same family as the striped venus clam.
Preparing the clams
The most time consuming part of this fregola with clams recipe is cleaning the clams. The rest is super simple! The clams probably need to be purged. So you have to wash them and then place them in a large bowl with water and salt. Leave them at least an hour. At the end of this time, rinse them again very well under running water and transfer them to a pan large enough for them to open when heated.
As they open, you will have to remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate or in a bowl. When they are all open, separate the shells keeping the part that contains the attached mollusk. Collect the remaining liquid in the pan and then, pass it through the mesh of a fine sieve covered with gauze or a thin cloth.
Once that is done, the rest of this fregola with clams recipe takes just 30 minutes and then you’re ready to enjoy a taste of Sardinia, which I’m sure will have you planning your holiday there soon!
Step by Step Instructions
1) Rinse the clams under cold running water to remove any initial grime or dirt from the shells (be sure to throw any with a broken shell away). Next, soak them in a large bowl of salted water for at least one hour. Then rinse them once more under cold running water.
Note: If there is any dirt or grime on the shells after they have been soaked, you can brush them with a stiff-bristled brush while rinsing them under cold running water.
2) Transfer them to the fire in a pan large enough for them to open when heated. As the clams open, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate or in a bowl. When they are all open, separate the shells keeping the part of the valve that contains the attached mollusk (you can also remove some from the shells completely).
3) Pour the remaining liquid in the pan into a bowl through the mesh of a fine sieve covered with gauze or a thin cloth.
3) Heat the olive oil in a separate large deep sauté pan and add the two peeled garlic cloves. Sauté until they start to brown and soften, then remove. Thoroughly stir in the tomato paste, add the hot water, then boil the sauce.
4) Reduce the sauce for 2 to 3 minutes and add the clams, filtered clam water a handful of chopped parsley.
5) Bring the sauce back to the boil, then add the fregola and cook over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes. If necessary, add a pinch of salt.
6) Pour the fregola with clams into serving dishes and serve immediately while still hot.
Storage and Leftovers
To store leftovers of your fregola and clams recipe, allow it to cool to room temperature, then transfer it into airtight containers. The dish can be safely stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
When you’re ready to enjoy your leftovers, the best way to reheat the dish is to transfer it into a pot and gently simmer it on the stove until it’s hot throughout (165F or 75c).
Remember, as with all seafood dishes, it’s important not to leave leftovers at room temperature for more than two hours, and to consume refrigerated leftovers within the recommended timeframe to ensure food safety.
Fregola is also known as Italian couscous or Sardinian couscous. It is basically little balls of pasta traditionally made by hand in a terracotta bowl, called a ‘scivedda’ in the local dialect.
The main difference between fregola and couscous is that the latter is traditionally made from crushed durum wheat, whilst fregola is made with coarsely ground semolina. In addition, couscous is usually steamed. Fregola is often toasted first and then cooked in the broth of the recipe or like rice in a risotto.
Until recently, fregola wasn’t easily available outside of Italy. But, it’s becoming popular and you can find it either online or in some Italian specialty shops.
Readers in the US can buy it from Supermarket Italy, an online Italian gourmet food store. I recently collaborated with this online shop to promote some of their other pasta. In fact, they stock some very good Italian pasta brands. So worth checking out!
Wherever you are, you can also search on Amazon for fregola (also sometimes called Sardinian fregula). I’ve seen a number of different options to buy it there.
You can read more about this interesting and very ancient type of pasta in my post about Sardinian fregola.
If you do try this fabulous fregola seafood recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.
Your feedback means a lot to me!
Fregola with clams: recipe from Sardinia
- 1 kg fresh small clams (2.2lbs) I used lupini (striped venus clams)
- 2 garlic cloves peeled
- 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. (1/3 cup)
- 2-3 tbsp tomato concentrate (paste)
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley chopped
- 1.5 Lts water (6 cups)
- 6-8 tbsp toasted fregola
Prepare the clams
- Wash the clams and place them in a large bowl with water and salt. Leave them at least an hour. At the end of this time, rinse them again very well under running water and transfer them to the fire in a pan large enough for them to open when heated.
As the clams open, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate or in a bowl. When they are all open, separate the shells keeping the part of the valve that contains
the attached mollusk. We also removed some from the shells completely. Pour the liquid remaining in the pan into a bowl through the mesh of a fine sieve covered with gauze or a thin cloth.
Finish the dish
- Chop the parsley and peel the garlic cloves. Heat the olive oil in a separate pan that's wide and has high edges. Add the two peeled garlic cloves and cook until they start to brown and soften. When the garlic is cooked remove it and add the tomato paste. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce is completely soaked in oil. Then add the hot water and bring the sauce to a boil.
When the liquid has boiled for a few minutes, it will be slightly reduced. Add the prepared half clams and the clams without shells if you have them. Then add the filtered clam water
and a handful of chopped parsley. Bring back to the boil, then add the fregola and cook over medium heat for about twenty minutes. If necessary, add a pinch of salt.
Pour the fregola with clams into serving dishes and serve immediately whilst still hot.
Read more Sardinian info, pasta and recipes
- Malloreddus (Sardinian Gnocchi)
- Sardinian gnocchi- malloreddus with zucchini flowers, ricotta & saffron
- Malloreddus with lamb ragu (Sardinian gnocchi)
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looks really good. no small clams available today so going to use black Mussels ??? any tips on using them. thank you. Joseph
Hi Jospeh thanks for your comment. I’ve yet to make fregola with mussels but I think it’s much the same. Obviously really fresh mussels may need to be scrubbed and have the beards removed. But you don’t need to purge them. Just filter the liquid you get when opening them in a separate pan. Also, I think I’d add the mussels to the fregola after it’s been half cooked in the sauce and filtered mussel water so the mussels don’t get overcooked.
Thank You so much for a reply , I usually make mussels Fra Diablo eaten with a crusty bread , and a glass of Merlo will let you know how your recipe works with them again you reply is more appreciated than you realize. I am an associate of James Beard 1970s. he hated the smell of garlic on his hands a funny great Chef ‘ Good Appetite “
Mary van Balen says
I am not familiar with the measurements “1/2 glass olive oil.” Did you mean 1/2cup? I recently received a gift of some Sardinian fregula and want to try this recipe.
Hi Mary, thanks for your comment. I have edited the amount of olive oil to make it easier to understand. You’ll need about 1/3 cup. Do let me know how the recipe turns out when you make it!
Mary van Balen says
Thanks for your prompt reply! I will let you know how my attempt turns out!
This looks so delicious. Saving and pinning this post. I can’t wait to try this. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing recipe.
This is really too good about the fregola with clams recipe from Sardinia thanks for sharing this.
Tanya Ngo says
How would you suggest to toast the fregola?
Hi Tanya, thanks for your message. After they have been left to dry a little, fresh fregola are usually toasted in a preheated oven for about 15 minutes at 180-200°c. Dried fregola is normally already toasted.
Tim Kline says
A few suggestions, don’t heat the clams in dry pot as suggested, you will wreck the pot and boil off the clam liquor. Steam them in a basket in a pot with a few cups of water, this water will be the “hot water” used to cook the pasta. You will only need a few ounces of olive oil. Half a glass ? Don’t add the cooked clams to the pasta until it is nearly al dente. If you cook the clams for another 20 minutes they will be tough nuggets. This was lovely, especially with the addition of a few anchovies during the garlic saute.
Hi Tim, thanks for your comment and tips. We actually always heat the clams in a dry pot even when making pasta alle vongole. They usually produce enough liquid of their own so it doesn’t wreck the pot. But like all Italian recipes there are different versions of fregola with clams and not all use the same methods or ingredients. The Italian recipe I followed called for half a glass of olive oil as does a similar recipe published by the Italian Academy of Cuisine. But not all do. Some people add fish broth, others use tomato passata. So there are many possibilities. I think your idea to add anchovies is one I will try next time!
Bill Lagano says
I forgot to mention under Where to buy fregola, The Fresh Market has now started carrying it in many locations
Thanks for the tip about The Fresh market Bill. I’ll add it to the recipe info.
Bill Lagano says
I have been making fregola with clams for quite some time. Love it. Couple of things I do differently. Before sauteing the garlic I saute one large minced shallot. And instead of the water I use a half a cup of white wine.
Thanks for your comment Bill! I love fregola with clams, such an easy yet impressive dish. I like the sound of the added shallot and wine. I’ll have to try that!
Every time I visit your blog I find new recipes I can’t wait to try! I love clams and this is a really good way to help me break free of the same old butter garlic sauce I cook them in. I cannot wait to have this!
The Pasta Project says
Thank you, Mikayla! Butter garlic sauce sounds delicious too!
This whole dish looks amazing. From the sauce to the clams and all the flavor in between! This is pure comfort food—I can’t wait to try!