"What is fregola sarda?"
In recent days, this is a frequently asked question in the dining room. Fregola, pronounced FREG-o-lah or FRAY-go-lah, is a tasty Sardinian pasta that we enjoy for its nutty flavor. As you can see in the picture, it fairly resembles Israeli couscous, another favorite pasta here at the restaurant.
But there are two big differences between the two pastas. In the photo, you can clearly see that fregola is not a consistent color. The pasta bits are toasted after they are dried, changing the color and more importantly, yielding that nutty flavor that is so addictive. The second difference is that fregola is made from coarse semolina, so it has a good bit more rustic character than more refined pastas such as Israeli couscous.
I'm still exploring the boundaries of what you can do with fregola. I do know that it works extremely well in soup, softening without becoming mushy. I also know that when I boil it until it is soft, about 25 minutes, I can make a hell of a flan with it by baking it in a savory custard base. Fregola flan makes a dramatic and sensuous base for grilled and roasted meats.
A natural thing to try is to cook it risotto style and I have done so with outstanding results. It makes a great pilaf, a great ersatz tabouleh, an unusual biryani, an off-the-wall posole, and so many other things. I even substituted it in clam chowder in place of potatoes—yum!
The way that we most use it here at the restaurant is to cook it, chill it, and reheat it at service with a little butter and Pecorino Romano cheese. It's hard to beat this as a neutral foil for a roast or grilled meat.
Available on the web and at retail for $5-$7 per pound and well worth it. Yes, pricey in terms of pasta, but you can stuff a family of four on fregola for $6, a bargain by almost any measure.