A unique Sardinian pasta.
Sardinian fregola is a small pasta typical of Sardinia. It is made of balls of durum wheat semolina and water, rolled by hand and toasted in the oven. This pasta is uniquely Sardinian and not found in other Italian regions.
Sardinian fregola looks like couscous.
Given the size and shape of Sardinian fregola, it’s not surprising that some people refer to this pasta as Italian couscous or Sardinian couscous. However, traditional North African couscous is smaller than fregola and made from crushed durum wheat semolina.
Like other types of Italian pasta, fregola is made from milled durum wheat semolina. Also, couscous is usually steamed before eating. Fregola , on the other hand, is toasted when still raw and then boiled in salted water or cooked in broth or sauce.
What does ‘fregola’ mean?
Many Italians and pasta makers call this Sardinian pasta ‘fregola’. But, apparently the proper name is fregula. This is a word that derives from the Latin ‘ferculum’ but came into the venacular as ‘fregolo’. In modern Italian, this would be briciolo or minuzzolo meaning ‘crumb’. I guess to indicate the tiny size of the pasta.
A little fregola history!
Sardinian Fregola has a very ancient history. According to some sources, this type of pasta existed in the tenth century! Some food historians believe that it derives from couscous and either the Phoenicians, the Punics or the Carthaginians brought it to Sardinia. However, many Sardinians are quick to refute that, saying there’s no evidence to prove that fregola isn’t a Sardinian invention!
Although Sardinian fregola dates back to the 10th century, the first historical document to mention it is a 14th century statute of the millers of Tempio Pausania, a town in Northern Sardinia. Millers were the first people to make pasta commercially. The statute regulated the preparation of pasta, which was only permitted from Monday to Friday. Apparently, this was so that farmers could use the supplies of fresh water on the fields on Saturdays and Sundays!
Making Sardinian fregola
The technique for making fregola is the same as for North African couscous. In fact, like couscous, this very old, still popular pasta was (and is) made in a terracotta or wooden bowl. In Sardinia, they call it a ‘scivedda’. Making Sardinian fregola requires some skill.
There is an old Sardinian proverb that goes ‘Koiaimì ca sciufai frégula’ meaning ‘give me a husband, because I know how to make fregula’! Interestingly, in the past, it was an important dowry requirement for women!
The ingredients to prepare fregola are coarsely ground durum wheat semolina, warm water and salt. The semolina flour goes into the terracotta bowl and then they add slightly salted warm water a little at a time, while constantly rolling the semolina to form small balls.
Once the raw fregola is ready, it is left to dry on a cloth before they toast it in the oven for fifteen minutes. This process is what give this pasta its golden colour and nutty taste.
I have been wanting to make my own fregola for a long while but haven’t got down to it yet!! However, I recently bought some ready-made toasted Sardinian fregola. I used it in one of the most traditional Sardinian seafood pasta recipes, fregola with small clams, or as the Sardinians say ‘fregula con le arselle’. This dish was so amazing! I hope you’ll check out the recipe!
In general, Sardinians eat fregola in seafood or vegetarian broth dishes or they cook it like risotto. Some people add saffron to the pasta dough. Other typical recipes are fregola with chickpeas, with mussels, with mixed seafood and with bottarga (mullet or tuna roe) However, there are some traditional fregola meat recipes such as with saffron and sausage or with lamb! (see links below for new fregola recipes)
Where to buy fregola?
Although not as widely available as other typical Italian pastas, Sardinian fregola is for sale online or at some Italian speciality shops. I know US readers can buy it online from Supermarket Italy, a well-known online gourmet Italian food store that I worked with recently.
Of course, an alternative to buying fregola is to make it!! Definitely on my to do list! In the meantime, you can watch how they make fregola in Sardinia in this video from Pasta Grannies .