Fregola con arselle, or fregula con cocciulas in Sardinian, is one of the most popular pasta dishes on the island. Originating from Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital, the dish is surprisingly easy to make: only six ingredients are used to prepare this delicious, incredibly satisfying dish. The secret to its success is the quality of the ingredients used: good olive oil, fresh clams, excellent tomatoes and fresh parsley, and just a hint of chili.
Here in Sardinia, we use arselle – a kind of clams (vongole, in Italian) that are only found on the island. But as long as you can get hold of good, fresh clams, your dish is going to turn out great.
Fregola is a Sardinian pasta made of just semolina flour and water, roughly worked in a terracotta bowl (the “scivedda”) with the fingers and then toasted (preferably in a wood-fire oven) – which gives it its many, unique colors. The final result is actually similar to Israeli couscous, but fregola pearls are slightly larger, and the way we cook with it is different as we don’t steam it, but cook it in broth, or like risotto.
The perfect pairing for fregola (or fregula, as you may at times see it written) is clams – fregola con arselle, indeed. Yet, other great pairings for this kind of pasta are artichokes and bottarga (salted, cured fish roe).
Traditional fregola con arselle can be made in many ways – some will prepare it with fresh tomatoes; others with canned plum tomatoes; some add a touch of sun-dried tomatoes to it. You may see it served with pane carasau – Sardinian crispy flatbread. My favorite is the one my mom taught me how to make: with top quality canned plum tomatoes. And this is the recipe I will be sharing with you today.
Table of Contents
Tips To Make Fregola Con Arselle
Don’t use salt
Clams are salty enough to give the dish a full flavor, so I don’t recommend adding salt to it while cooking. Make sure to taste the sauce before adding the fregola anyways, and only add salt if you think it needs it.
You can use fresh ripe tomatoes
You definitely can! Just make sure they are nice, ripe and full of flavor. Alternatively, these plum tomatoes are perfect.
Make your own fregola, or buy it
Can’t find it in stores? This is the one I use – it’s what we buy in Sardinia.
Fregola is best used uncooked
You can, if you are in a rush – I don’t recommend cooking it for more than 3 or 4 minutes though.
- 1.5 cups (350 grams) of fregola
For the sauce
- 2 cups (800 grams) of top quality peeled plum tomatoes, roughly chopped with your fingers
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 cayenne pepper - seeds out
- 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2.2 pounds (1 kg) fresh, clean clams
For the final dish
- Finely chopped parsley
STEP 1 - SOAK THE CLAMS
- Clams are usually clean when you buy them, but as a precaution and to make sure they don't have any sand, soak them in water for about one hour to fully purge them.
STEP 2 - COOK AND PICK THE CLAMS
- Cook the clams in a pot on low heat, until they open. Once they do, pick them out one by one, tossing any that hasn't opened at all - those are the ones that usually have sand in them.
- As they open, clams release their water. Make sure you save that: pour it over the clams, filtering with a thin strainer or - even better - a kitchen cloth.
STEP 3 - PREPARE THE SAUCE
- Pour the olive oil in a large pot and then add the cayenne pepper, which you will have cleared from the seeds, and the garlic. We prefer leaving the garlic in large chunks which we take out once it's browned, but if you enjoy a richer garlic flavor, you can shop it in smaller pieces and / or leave it in.
Add the clams and, shortly after, the roughly chopped canned plum tomatoes.
STEP 5 - ADD THE FREGOLA
- Once the sauce starts to boil, add the fregola and stir. Although the instructions on the fregola bag will suggest a 10-minutes cooking time, it will probably need around 20 to 25 minutes. Make sure to stir occasionally and to add a bit of water if you notice that it's thickening up. The final consistency should be a bit like risotto.
STEP 6 - SPRINKLE WITH SOME FINELY CHOPPED PARSLEY
- Once the fregola is cooked, serve and sprinkle with some finely chopped parsley for a refreshing touch.
Serve piping hot!
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 228Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 568mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 12g
Where To Eat Fregola Con Arselle In Cagliari
If you wish to try fregola con arselle during your trip to Sardinia, chances are you will find it in many restaurants in Cagliari – where the dish originated from – and its surroundings. Some will try to push a new, revisited version of the dish. While I like the idea of giving a new twist to traditional dishes, I must say that in this case the original version is so good there really are no reasons to change it!
These are the restaurants serving the best fregola con le arselle in Cagliari:
DA PAOLO – Outside the center of town, you won’t even notice the restaurant unless you know it’s there. But trust me, this is one of the best traditional fish and seafood places in town, and their fregola con arselle is heavenly. Worth a taxi ride for sure!
LOCANDA MARGHERITA – If you don’t want to leave the historic center, this is probably your best bet for a good fregola. It’s located in Via Sardegna, in the heart of the Marina district.
IL MALANDRINO – Another nice restaurant in the Marina district that has a strong focus on fish and seafood and is known to make an excellent fregola.
STELLA MARINA DI MONTECRISTO – This unpretentious trattoria at the end of Via Sardegna, in the Marina district, is actually one of the most popular local eateries. They serve whatever fresh catch of the day, but you may try your luck for a good fregola con le arselle.
For more Sardinian recipes, you may want to check out the following posts:
- The Most Delicious Sardinian Food: Everything You Must Try
- How To Prepare Malloreddus Alla Campidanese (Gnocchetti Sardi)
- How To Make Sardinian Culurgiones
- How To Make Pani Frattau
- How To Make Seadas – Sardinian Cheese And Honey Pastries
- How To Make Sa Panada From Sardinia
- How To Make Su Mazzamurru: Sardinian Bread And Tomato Lasagne
- How To Make Sardinian Zeppole
- How To Make Burrida Alla Cagliaritana
- How To Make Spigola Alla Vernaccia
- How To Make Agnello Coi Carciofi
- How To Make Spaghetti Con Le Vongole