Looking back at my first blog entries, I kind of want to cringe.
I didn't even sound like myself, but some weird, stilted version of myself. I appear not to have had a sense of humor when I blogged about how I wanted to learn to cook serious Italian food and planned to use two cookbooks to guide me when doing it. They aren't even my go-to cookbooks these days. Sigh.
A16 Food + Wine is a great cookbook, don't get me wrong, but it assumes that you have all day to cook your dish and the bounty of San Francisco's markets at your fingertips.
When my parents came up to visit at the end of last summer, I gave them a short list of some of the more esoteric ingredients to see if they could wrangle them at one of St. Louis' old-school Italian markets since St. Louis has a great old Italian neighborhood (for an entry about exploring that neighborhood, go here).
There was one ingredient that stumped even those markets: bottarga.
|Funny, it doesn't look like it's worth its weight in gold.|
Bottarga is, according to A16, pressed mullet or tuna roe, although it now appears that it can be made of the roe from other fish. I finally encountered it shaved over a salad at the restaurant Beast in Portland. There's no mistaking it once you know what it tastes like: salty and of the sea somehow. Salmon roe has a similar taste, although it's not as intense as caviar. You either like it or you don't.
We bought a tiny piece and brought it home to experiment. This recipe from A16 is marked by its relative ease, although it assumes you have made your own oven-dried tomatoes. I have adapted it to use storebought sun-dried tomatoes. The bottarga is unnecessary to enjoy the dish, and vegetarians could leave it out.
Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Bottarga
Adapted from A16 Food + Wine
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 small peperoncini peppers, crushed
2 cups sun-dried tomato halves, cut in half
1/2 cup vegetarian or chicken stock
12 ounces fresh or dried pasta, preferably angel hair or bucatini
1/2 oz. bottarga
Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, then add the olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and peperoncini, stirring occasionally, until the garlic just starts to take color.
If using fresh pasta, start it now and cook for approximately a minute. When the pasta, either fresh or dried, is cooked, reserve about a cup of the pasta water. If the tomato mixture looks dry, add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid to reach the desired consistency, just thick enough to coat the pasta.
Combine the cooked pasta with the sauce and toss to coat the pasta strands. Shave the bottarga over the pasta when it is either on a serving platter or in individual bowls.
Makes four main-course servings or six pasta course servings.