Like the cuisine of Sardinia itself, the unique tiny pasta known as fregula sarda may be one of the world’s best kept culinary secrets. Made from hard durum wheat, fregula (or fregola) is a traditional Sardinian pasta that resembles Israeli couscous—but that’s where the similarity ends. Think of fregula as the heartier, more flavorful cousin of couscous. Fregula is rolled into rather large, irregular balls (when cooked, they are the size of green peas) and double-toasted, giving it a distinctive hearty, almost nut-like flavor. The toasting process also helps fregula hold up better than many other pastas and gives it a unique flavor and chewy texture when cooked. Its rough texture makes it ideal for absorbing the flavors of its surrounding broth or sauce. Fregula can be used instead of pasta in your favorite pasta recipes or cooked like risotto in a broth until tender. You can add it to soup, using it in place of orzo, rice, or barley. It can be combined with your favorite vegetables and herbs and served warm or cold. Consider tossing it with olive oil and fresh herbs for a tabbouleh-like salad, or top it with a savory stew as you would do with rice or couscous. Use it in a stuffing for vegetables such as bell peppers or squash. Essentially, most any way you already enjoy pasta, rice, or other grains, you can substitute this versatile ingredient to add an exciting new twist to your meals. Here is a recipe for my favorite way to enjoy fregula. Made with butternut squash and sage, this soul-satisfying dish also features saffron, another popular Sardinian ingredient, although the saffron can be omitted if you don’t have any on hand. Green baby peas add complementary color and a burst of sweet flavor. To transform this into a hearty one-dish meal, add 1 1/2 cups of cooked cannellini beans or 8 ounces of sliced, sauteed, vegan sausage. And if you can’t find fregula, don’t fret — this recipe is equally delicious made with your favorite pasta. I especially like using orecchiette.
Fregula with Butternut Squash and Sage [Vegan]
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, halved and seeded (about 2 pounds)
- 3 shallots or 1 small yellow or red onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 (16-ounce) package fregula sarda
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
- 1 tablespoon dry white wine (optional)
- Whole fresh sage leaves, for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut the squash into a small dice (1/4 to 1/2-inch) and transfer to a large bowl. Add the shallots and chopped sage, and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.
- Arrange the squash mixture in a single layer in a well-oiled rimmed baking sheet. Roast until the squash is tender and caramelized, 20 to 30 minutes, turning once about halfway through. Remove from the oven, set aside, and keep warm.
- While the squash is cooking, cook the fregula in a pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 15 minutes, or according to package directions. (Mine took about 20 minutes.) Drain and return to the pot.
- While the fregula and squash are cooking, heat the vegetable broth in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the saffron and red pepper flakes, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the mixture reduces by half. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed (depending on the saltiness of the broth). Stir in the peas and wine, if using.
- Transfer the pea and broth mixture to the pot containing the cooked and drained fregula. Add the roasted squash mixture and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired. Stir gently to combine and heat through for a few minutes, if needed. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve hot or warm, garnished with fresh sage leaves, if using.