Fregola pasta is roasted semolina pasta that originated in Sardinia and is sometimes called fregula pasta. It resembles coucous, only larger, and with a more complex flavor. Choosing the best fregola pasta may take a few purchases, because many of the qualities that make good pasta are not easily discernible without cooking it first. In general, good-quality fregola pasta should be golden in color without black specks that indicate impurities. When it cooks, it will take longer than other pastas and be less likely to be mushy.
Many companies make fregola pasta the traditional way, which is by forming pebble-sized balls of pasta that resemble coarse bread crumbs and roasting it. The roasting process gives fregola its distinctive nutty flavor and allows it to keep its texture when it is cooked. Choosing to buy from companies that make fregola pasta in Sardinian fashion makes it more likely that the pasta will have its unique flavor and textural qualities.
As fregola is an unusual type of pasta, it may be hard to find. In fact, many Italians have never heard of it. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to find in local groceries or Italian specialty stores. The few manufacturers of fregola pasta that exist offer it through Internet sources, making it easy to buy but more difficult to check for quality before purchase.
Once fregola is cooked, it should have more bite than other pastas, even those that have been cooked al dente. This texture distinguishes it from other pastas that rely on shape and bulk for texture, while fregola more closely resembles rice and can be used in similar ways. Traditionally, fregola pasta is served with clams, tomatoes, or other ingredients that have some of their own bulk. It can also be served like risotto or added to soups.
Fregola comes in several different sizes that might stand up to certain recipes better than others. Smaller fregola can be used much like coucous, but it does have more weight and heft in the mouth than coucous. Its flavor is also stronger, so use it in caution as a substitute for coucous, as it might alter the flavor of recipes in an undesirable manner. Larger grains of fregola have enough substance to pair with tomato sauce without getting overwhelmed.
If it is too difficult to find commercial sources of fregola, it can be made from scratch without a pasta maker. Coarse semolina can be mixed with small amounts of water with the hands, adding more water until the dough forms large crumbs. Smaller pieces can be separated from larger pieces for use in different recipes. Fregola is dried and lightly roasted for the unique flavor and cooking qualities it imparts.