Fregula con Arselle: Tiny Sardinian Pasta with Clams
Fregula, or fregola, are tiny toasted pasta nuggets popular in Sardinia for centuries. Some food historians believe it was first introduced from North Africa in the tenth century. There are historical documents dating to the 14th century that mention fregula in northern Sardinia noting that by law it could only be made Monday through Friday as part of a series of regulations on water usage. Saturdays and Sundays the water was allocated for watering gardens.
Fregula is like couscous, but firmer, with a more toothsome bite, and superb nutty flavor. Sardinian fregula is handmade. Made in a wide, flat bottomed terra-cotta or wooden bowl, the dough of coarse ground durum wheat semolina and warm salted water is rolled into teeny balls. Then the raw dough balls are left on a dry cloth to air dry and once dry are oven roasted for about 15 minutes. A difficult technique to master, that was an important dowry requirement in the past. In fact there’s an old Sardinian proverb to that effect: “Give me a husband, because I know how to make fregula” - Koiaimì ca sciufai frégula.
This clam sauce is one of the most traditional recipes for this unique pasta, and really shows off its taste and extraordinary texture.
Steam open the clams in 4 cups of water, remove from their shells, saving some in the shells for decoration. Keep the water you cooked the clams in, straining out any sand.
In a skillet heat the oil and garlic until light golden, then add the tomato paste, wine, chili peppers and dried tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the clams and their liquid and the fregula and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. It should be a little soupy at the end, so if it becomes too dry, add a little water.
Season to taste with salt and serve topped with parsley, a drizzle of olive oil, and garnish with the reserved clams in their shells.