Fregula con le Arselle
Region: Italy, Sardinia
Category: Pasta with Shellfish
Fregula (or fregola) are coarse little balls of semolina that look very much like large, rough grains of couscous. In fact, in Malta they call them kusksu, but they are definitely not couscous. But the shape they evoke (of couscous) might be a conscious attempt to emulate an Arab food. Fregula are prepared in a variety of ways for primi piatti in Sardinia, but this recipe, where they are cooked with tomatoes and baby clams, is my favorite. Fregula is one of the harder pastas to find in this country--you can try well-stocked Italian markets. But you can most certainly find it at gourmetsardinia.com, chefshop.com or bring some home as a souvenir. I learned how to make this spicy version at the Ristorante Italia in Cágliari.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Preparation Time: 40 minutes
1. Place the drained clams in a large pot or skillet, cover, and turn the heat to high. After 3 minutes check to see if any clams have opened and begin removing each one that opens, about 6 to 7 minutes in all. Discard any clams that remain tightly shut. Separate the shells, discarding the half shell not attached to the clam. Strain the clam broth remaining in the pot through a fine mesh strainer and set aside.
2. In a medium-size pot or earthenware casserole, heat the olive oil with the garlic over a medium-high heat until the garlic begins to turn light golden, stirring so the garlic doesn't burn. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir well. Pour in the water, salt, cayenne, and reserved clam juice. Bring to a gentle boil, then add the fregula. Cook until al dente, about 16 to 18 minutes, then taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Stir in the clams and parsley and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, and serve with an extra bowl to collect the empty shells.