Kitchn Love Letters

My Favorite Pantry Staple That’s Half the Price at Whole Foods

published Sep 10, 2022
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Fregola pesto salad in serving bowl.
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Rebecca Firkser

One of my favorite “splurge” grocery items is fancy pasta. The quirky shapes and toothsome quality of the bags that cost a few dollars more than the typical boxes make an otherwise basic dinner a little weeknight treat. 

Fregola is one of those specialty pastas I adore. My favorite meal I’ve had with fregola was several years ago, sitting across a table with my husband at a little waterside Italian restaurant in Sausalito on an unseasonably warm April evening. We were visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, scouting out neighborhoods before relocating our young family from our Phoenix home for a job opportunity. Date nights were rare for us, which made this unplanned meal at a white-tableclothed, sort-of-touristy restaurant feel extra special. The trip had been fun, but the idea of finding a new home weighed heavily in the back of my mind while we explored. In the midst of that, this dinner felt like a real vacation.

While my food was memorable enough, I will forever think about that bowl of fregola and shellfish and remember feeling the promise of exciting things to come.

Despite my fondness for fregola, I rarely buy it. When I see it in specialty stores or online the price tag is often in the double digits. That’s too much for my wallet, even as a splurge. So when I spied it for less than $5 during a recent trip to Whole Foods, I immediately tossed a bag in my cart.

Credit: Meleyna Nomura

What’s So Great About San Giuliano Casa Manca Toasted Fregola?

Fregola is a small pasta that comes from the island of Sardinia. Similar to pearl couscous, it’s a toasted semolina pasta, but with more of an irregular shape and chewier quality. It’s traditionally formed by hand, made by slowly combining water and semolina flour and rubbing it along the bottom of a terra cotta bowl to form little pasta nuggets. It’s then dried overnight and toasted in an oven. 

This fregola is made by San Giuliano in Alghero, Sardinia. The company focuses on olive oil, with a handful of other Italian specialties, like olive spreads and vinegar. The toasted fregola is part of their “casa manca” line of products. The phrase roughly translates to “homesick,” recalling food memories specifically tied to home. San Giuliano isn’t a pasta company, but it is a Sardinian company and fregola pays tribute to the company’s Sicilian roots. As I have discovered myself, these little golden nuggets of semolina are distinct, their flavors instantly taking you back to a specific experience.

What’s the Best Way to Use San Giuliano Casa Manca Toasted Fregola?

Fregola can be cooked and used like any other pasta, but it’s often cooked risotto-style like orzotto. It can also be added to soups or eaten at room temperature for a dish that lands somewhere in between a pasta salad and a grain salad

Fregola is often cooked with shellfish and saffron, two popular ingredients in Sardinia. The plump, toasty grains nestle themselves into the shells of tiny little clams, making for a perfect bite. And for $5, it’s easy to revisit that perfect bite over and over again.

Find it in stores: San Giuliano Casa Manca Toasted Fregola, $4.99 for 1.1 pounds at Whole Foods

What splurgy items are you buying for less right now? Tell us in the comments below.