Fregola pasta could be called a close relative to couscous and is quickly becoming a popular pasta, especially in Italian restaurants. Both fregola and couscous are fine beads of semolina pasta. Yet many having discovered fregola pasta find they like it better, because after little bits of semolina wheat and water are rubbed together, the pasta is lightly toasted. This gives it a wonderful, nutlike flavor that couscous lacks. It also is a rougher, grainier production than couscous, which many diners and cooks find more appealing.
The origins of fregola pasta are difficult to trace. In Italy, the primary region that uses it is Sardinia, and Sardinians claim its invention. Yet the pasta is so similar to couscous that there are several theories fregola originated in the Middle East and then was picked up by the Sardinian people. It’s not common in all areas of Sardinia, and is seen mostly as a popular choice in the southern parts of the region.
In cooking, fregola pasta has many applications. It can be cooked as a side dish, similar to rice and topped with savory foods. There are recipes calling for fregola in dishes like risotto, pasta and beans, and as a substitute for couscous in tabouleh. You can add the pasta to soups like minestrone, or use it to stuff chicken. Further you could use fregola pasta as a morning breakfast grain, served as a hot cereal.
It’s not easy to find fregola pasta in the US, and you may have to shop at International grocery stores or Italian delis to get it. Almost all brands are imported from and made in Italy. It is easy to find it online, and since dried pasta keeps well, you might want to stock up if you’re a fan of it.
Cooking fregola pasta, when it isn’t added to soups, is quite like cooking rice or couscous. After placing the pasta in boiling water, usually a measured amount, the pasta is covered and simmered at low heat. This allows it to absorb the water. Finished fregola doesn’t have leftover water because the semolina is so absorbent. One of the benefits of the pasta is how quickly it cooks. After you water has boiled, the pasta is usually done in about 10 minutes, which can certainly beat the cooking time of rice.
The pasta is then fluffed with a fork to keep pieces from sticking together, and can be used in a variety of dishes. Try a little in green salads, in a pita, or cool it and mix it with yogurt. For a simple side dish, take warm fregola pasta, toss it with olive oil, and add a bit of chopped basil or parsley. It makes a great accompaniment in dishes, but its flavor also means fregola can stand alone as an attractive side or main dish.