Fregula is a type of small pasta in the shape of little balls. It is traditionally produced and used in the cuisine of Sardinia, a region of Italy. The base of the pasta is made primarily from semolina, a product made from processing drum wheat into flour that is also used for other types of pasta. Its small, round shape gives it a sturdier texture than flat pastas and it is often mistaken for a whole grain.
The process of making fregula generally begins with dough made of semolina flour, eggs, salt, and water. The dough is then usually fed into a pasta roller that can automatically cut and roll it into tiny balls. It can also be made and rolled by hand. Hand-rolled versions of the pasta tend to be much less common in modern times because each piece of pasta is only about less than half of a centimeter wide. The small balls of pasta are then heated in an oven until they are just toasted to give them a richer flavor.
Fregula tends to be purchased commercially in its dry, toasted form. To hydrate and cook the pasta generally requires boiling in liquid, such as water or broth, which can add more flavor. Although the pasta’s texture is similar to a grain, it doesn’t need as long of a cooking time and usually only takes approximately 10 minutes to become soft, yet chewy.
One of the most traditional accompaniments to the pasta is a tomato-based sauce. To make the pasta and tomato sauce dish more of a satisfying main entrée, it is also often served with clams mixed into the sauce. Although the pasta tends to be most commonly used in traditional Sardinian cuisine with tomato sauce and clams, it is also often added to soups or served on its own as a side dish with meat or poultry.
Fregula is often not as easily accessible throughout the world as other dried pastas or grains. In many recipes, couscous, a small round grain also made with semolina, may be used as a substitute; however, couscous tends to have a lighter, fluffier texture and a more mild, less nutty taste. Other grains, such as barley or rice, can also be used in recipes when the pasta is not available. Substituting other types of pasta may not be as effective as swapping it out for a grain since fregula’s texture is thought to be more similar to a hearty grain rather than a softer, more pliable pasta. Using a softer pasta can result in a dish with a soggier texture than desired.