Sardinian Fregola with Clams

Sardinian Fregola with Clams |

I was re-arranging my pantry recently and found a package of Sardinian fregola that I had purchased at Altomonte’s Italian market ( a few years back. I had visited Sardinia back in 2008 and returned home with a few treasured recipes that have become family favorites. My mouth instantly watered (ho l’acquolina in bocca! – love that phrase in Italian) thinking about the dish that I typically make with this Sardinian speciality and it was game on for dinner.

Sardinia 2008

My trip to Sardinia was a special one for me. I had come to the island as part of my quest to visit as many of the Italian islands as I could. (I still have many more to go!) The island itself was breathtaking… from the hues of blue that were the sea to the interior mountains covered with sheep to my favorite town that was Bosa on the western edge, where the water was the bluest of blues, where the air smelled of salt and brine.  This little town with a river running through it, rose up and up from the sea, its homes brightly colored, the streets wavy and uneven from the cobblestones. You could feel the souls of centuries past as you walked through the streets of the old village. I still to this day remember that feeling as I walked up to the fortress at the top.

The village of Bosa

On one bright sunny day, I stumbled across a little restaurant set right on the sand at the sea. In front of me was a dish made from the smallest, most tender little clams, which I have come to learn are called arselle. The broth was the deepest red, spiked with saffron and the toasty fregola soaked up all the wonderful flavors as it swam in this heavenly combination.

Sardinia’s invaders and settlers have heavily influenced Sardinian distinctive cuisine.  Given Sardinia’s strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea, the constant wave of invaders has left the cuisine of the island heavily influenced by nearby Italy but also by the far away shores of southern Europe and Africa. Sardinian fregola is a great example of this, as it closely resembles couscous, although the little balls are larger than typical couscous.  The pasta is also toasted, giving any dish from which it is made a wonderfully nutty flavor.  

Fregola has also been gaining in popularity in this country and is much easier to find than in years past. This dish is super simple but the taste is divine. The clams infuse the saffron-laced broth with a briny flavor that balances beautifully with the nutty taste of the fregola. If you can find yourself a bag of this wonderful pasta, do not hesitate for a second. (You, of course, can find it easily on line these days.) You will not be disappointed!

Buon appetito,


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Sardinian Fregola with Clams

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This Sardinian speciality turns into a tasty Italian meal with the addition of briny clams and infused with a saffron-laced broth.



  • 4 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Healthy pinch of saffron
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • About 2 cups diced tomato (either canned or fresh plum tomatoes)
  • Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups clam stock (other stock may be substituted)
  • 2 cups water plus additional if needed
  • 2 cups fregola


Rinse and scrub the clams. Discard any clams with broken shells. Purge the clams of sand by covering the clams in a large bowl with salt water. (You want the taste of the water to be similar to seawater.) Allow the clams to purge for about an hour. Drain the clams, being careful not to pour the grit back over the clams.  

In a large heavy pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add in the clams. Cover tightly and shake the pan until the clams start to open. As they open, remove the clams to a bowl.  Discard any clams that have not opened. Turn off the heat. Strain the liquid produced from the clams – use either cheesecloth to strain or very carefully pour off the liquid leaving the sand behind.  Add the saffron to the liquid and allow to bloom while you prepare the rest of the dish. Set the clams and the liquid aside.

Heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in the same large heavy pot. Add the minced garlic and cook over moderately high heat for approximately 30 seconds.  Add the white wine and simmer for few minutes. Add in the diced tomatoes and a pinch of hot pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook until the tomatoes soften (abut 10 minutes).  Add in the reserved clam juice and parsley and simmer for approximately 5 minutes.  Taste the broth and adjust seasonings.  (As clams are usually very salty, I find I typically only need to add pepper.)

Add in the stock and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and add in the fregola. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fregola is tender to the bite (about 15 minutes). If the mixture becomes too thick, add more water to thin.

Put the clams back into the wonderful broth to reheat for a few minutes and then you are ready to serve! Sprinkle with additional chopped parsley and serve immediately with freshly warmed toasted bread.

Join the Conversation

  1. Vincent (Vinnie) Sabatino Sr says:

    Hi Michelle,
    Not Yet ,Just rec’d the Recipe but sounds so deliciouso Can’t wait to try it !Also been hankering for a Ricotta pie so will try that also down the road a bit ! Thanks so much for sharing !

    1. Michele Author says:

      You are very welcome, Vinnie!

  2. Doesn’t this look yummy. I’ve only made it once or twice but really enjoyed it. And sadly never had it on its home turf. Will have to correct that one of these days ,

    1. Michele Author says:

      Absolutely must correct that 🙂 Amazing island….have a wonderful holiday weekend! a presto, Michele

  3. Anthony Furio says:

    This is very funny, I too cleaned out my pantry several months ago and found the unused package of fregola. It added a different taste dimension to my “brodetto di merluzzi”. Now I know what I’ll be making for the 5th of July, thanks again for this recipe!

    1. Michele Author says:

      Pantry cleaning is the best! Have a great holiday! A presto, Michele

  4. Just made this last night. easy and tasted great. next time I would add more liquids for more broth. Got my Fregola on Amazon.

    1. Michele Author says:

      Grazie, Linda! Thanks for taking the time to comment! xo Michele

  5. i made this tonight, exactly as directed, and it was perfection. i wanted you to know the love of this dish was shared with my two teens and my boyfriend. we all wanted to give you the props. it was super special. to anyone wondering if they should make this DO IT. soo good.

    1. Michele Author says:

      Julie – thank you for taking the time to comment! So very glad you enjoyed – one of my favorite dishes for sure. Grazie! Michele

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