Fregola with chickpeas. Recipe from Sardinia.
This warming Sardinian fregola with chickpeas is a nutritious and delicious slightly spicy vegetarian pasta soup recipe from Sardinia. It’s a perfect cold weather meal. Add spinach for colour and more fiber or pancetta/guanciale for a non-vegetarian version.
Fregula con ceci.
When the cold days of November and December hit, I love making pasta soups. Using pasta in soups is very popular here in Italy. Pasta adds carbohydrates and bulk that turn a soup into a hearty meal. Legumes are also a common ingredient in Italian soups. In this recipe, the chickpeas add protein, calcium, iron and fiber as well as other nutrients, so now the soup is a well-balanced meal too!
I have always found it intriguing that many traditional Italian recipes are so nutritious. Back in the day when dishes like this Sardinian fregola with chickpeas became popular, people didn’t really understand the nutritional value of the different foods they ate! They just put dishes together based on what was seasonal and available and what they grew!
Chickpeas in Sardinia.
People have cultivated chickpeas in Sardinia since the times of Ancient Rome. As you can imagine, there are many traditional chickpea recipes on the island. Many of these are types of soup like ‘minestra di ceci e finocchio’, made with chickpeas and wild fennel or ‘zuppa di ceci e verza’ (chickpea and savoy cabbage soup).
Another famous Sardinian chickpea recipe is stewed chickpeas. The Sardinians also use chickpeas in a very old sweet Christmas recipe called ‘cixirau’ in which they cook chickpeas with honey, sugar, Christmas spices like cinnamon and cloves and orange peel!
The city of Sassari in Sardinia is famous for a type of chickpea flour pancake called ‘fainé alla sassarese’. This popular street food was imported from Liguria centuries ago by Genovese sailors who landed in the ports of northern Sardinia. Sardinians eat it either alone or flavored with onions and/or Sardinian sausage.
What is fregola?
Fregola (or fregula) is a small pasta typical of Sardinia. It is made of balls of durum wheat semolina and water, worked by hand and then roasted in the oven. This pasta is uniquely Sardinian and not found in other Italian regions. It looks very similar to couscous but with a slightly nutty flavour. In fact, fregola is often called Italian couscous or Sardinian couscous. If you want to learn more about this unique pasta, check out my post on Sardinian fregola.
This Sardinian fregola and chickpeas recipe.
I definitely prefer using dried chickpeas to canned. But, of course, this recipe can be made with both. Obviously, soaking dried chickpeas overnight and then boiling them takes time. However, I think the result is more flavourful and healthier.
This Sardinian fregola and chickpeas is a pretty simple recipe. Apart from the fregola and chickpeas, all you need is onions, garlic, celery, tomatoes, tomato passata, parsley and peperoncino (red chili pepper). You can leave the latter out if you don’t like spicy food. My hubby wanted me to add some pancetta, which I did. Just leave that out for a vegetarian version.
Because the fregola pasta cooks in the soup it actually absorbs a lot of the liquid, so the end result is more like a risotto than a soup. In fact, the last stage of cooking is very similar to how Italians make risotto. However, if you want your Sardinian fregola with chickpeas to have more liquid, just add some extra broth or water.
Fregola and chickpeas are a great combo.
I think fregola and chickpeas are such a great combination. Not only are they delicious together but the similarity in the size and shape of both gives this soup a fabulous texture and look. However, if you don’t have fregola you can use Israeli couscous instead, it looks pretty similar. Plus as I mentioned before you can add other ingredients to suit your taste.
Spinach goes really well in this dish, as do mushrooms or other legumes like red or black beans. Instead of peperoncino, use fennel or rosemary. However you make this Sardinian fregola with chickpeas, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it is a great cold weather dish!
If you do try this Sardinian fregola with chickpeas 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.
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Sardinian fregola with chickpeas
- 300 g fregola (10-11oz) or Israeli couscous
- 350 g chickpeas (120z) dried or canned
- 200 g pancetta (optional) (7oz) cubed (for non vegetarian)
- 1 onion peeled and finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove peeled and finely chopped
- 1-2 celery stalks finely chopped
- 500 g tomato passata (17 floz)
- 10-12 cherry tomatoes cut into halves
- 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.
- 500 ml vegetable stock (16 floz) cubes dissolved in water or homemade stock.
- salt to taste
- ground black pepper to taste
- 1 handful fresh parsley chopped
- 1 fresh peperoncino (red chili pepper) chopped (optional)
If using dried chickpeas
- Put the dried chickpeas to soak in water overnight. In the morning, drain the chickpeas and cover with fresh water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until ready about 1-2 hours depending on the size and age of the chickpeas. You can also cook the chickpeas in the pressure cooker for about 20 minutes. Once cooked drain the chickpeas.
Make the soup
- Chop the peeled onion, peeled garlic and celery finely and sauté together in a pan with extra virgin olive oil and the chopped peperoncino for about 5-7 minutes.
- Add the diced pancetta (if using) and continue cooking for 5 minutes.
- Add the halved cherry tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes till they start to soften. Add the tomato passata, season with salt and cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the fregola and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring to combine.
- Add the drained cooked chickpeas to the sauce. (or rinsed canned chickpeas)
- Cook everything together slowly for 15-20 minutes stirring all the time and adding the stock little by little. (The same way as making risotto).
- Serve when ready with a sprinkling of finely chopped parsley and some crusty bread or grated pecorino.