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Friday, February 24, 2012

The Grail of Ingredients

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.

Last Sunday morning before leaving Seattle, David and I stocked up on all things Italian at DeLaurenti's, a terrific Italian grocery at Pike Place Market (the coffee bar there, FYI, is terrific).  There, in the case with the salumi and cheese, was a hunk of bottarga.  I practically expired at the price, which was over $200 a pound or some such craziness.

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 dried pasta, put it on now and cook until al dente.  Add the tomatoes to the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes or until they have softened considerably.  About halfway through the cooking process, add the stock.

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.


  1. Interesting ingredient here, I have never heard of the stuff. Glad to see that the dish is versatile enough to not require it! Lucky you to visit that market, I know I would have spent some money there.
    As far as the idea of the blog, it is hard to stick to our first thought since it was one without much blogging knowledge. Have a great weekend!

  2. Reading my first entries is always cringe-worthy for me as well. What was I thinking?! The formatting was even bad.

    This dish does NOT look bad though. Seattle is such a great place to find fresh food. I wish I could do my weekly shopping at Pike's.

  3. $200 a pound!? Ouch! I think I'd be too afraid to experiment with it!

  4. That's on my list to pick up in NYC - a tiny, tiny piece. It does add a zest to the dish. I don't read my early entries. It's like reading a first draft of a play and noting, "What was I thinking?" Did you go to Salumi in Seattle? Amazing.

  5. I think if everyone went back to their first posts they would cringe (or at least have a few aha moments). Never heard of this expensive ingredient. So how was it?

  6. I watch this show called the Chew and Mario Batalli used Bottarga last week so it's really cool to see you actually use it. I heard it's expensive.... but I bet it tasted great. :) I cringe at my earlier posts too... I sound totally weird and my pictures are horrific. I am trying to go back and redo those recipes slowly to give them the blog love they deserve. Have a great weekend! ~ Ramona

  7. I think we all cringe at our first few blog posts. It takes a while to become comfortable. I haven't had bottarga but yes, it is expensive! Your spaghetti looks delicious. What a great meal.

  8. Thanks for the comments!

    @Jen, that's why I bought about an ounce of the stuff--I could not believe how much it costs.

    @Claudia, no, I didn't know about Salumi, but I'll put it on my list for when I go back to Seattle. I did take your suggestion about Elliott Bay books, though!

  9. I'm so glad you found your bottarga! What a simple (as long as you don't have to make your SDT!) and delicious dish.

    PS...I'm scared to go back and read my early posts :/

  10. Haha! I dread looking at my early posts too! These days, I couldn't be bothered to pretend to sound sane .... that's right, I think I actually managed to get worse! :D Oh well ...
    Compacted roe ... that's interesting, and shaved? Sounds like a wanna be truffle substitute. Sounds delicious tho, all that intense flavors to top off a lovely pasta dish. Must check our stores to see if they have that but seriously, that expensive? Maybe I'll have to think twice before I buy any. Aww...

  11. I think we all cringe at our first few blog posts. Glad you found your bottarga.

  12. The pasta sauce looks really great with bottarga and peperoncini peppers. I guess I have to go with standard salami instead of expensive one.
    I wish you a wonderful weekend.

  13. The sauce looks delish! I'm a big fan of sundried tomatoes so 2 cups of it had me bookmarking this recipe instantly!

  14. I am not sure about the roe but tuna is one of the fish we enjoy. Thats a lovely simple recipe but I think sun-dried is not for me, so probably the fresh tomatoes will be my try.

    Btw, I am looking through some of my posting when I started blogging and oh my, all recipes starts with same statement like easy to cook and simple, funny but its true.

  15. I can relate - I mean I've not even been blogging for half a year, and already I find my first posts horrible. ;)

    Oooh, that looks delicious!

  16. I hate looking at my first posts! I feel so lame and stupid, lol! I've never had bottarga, but I've heard it's tasty!

  17. Haha me too. I hope no one actually look back at my older posts because I was talking to myself (no audience) and my photos were all yellow because I was taking under the yellow light on the dining room table right before dinner time. UGH. This pasta looks delicious! I never heard of Bottarga but I'd love to try when I see it.

  18. The pasta sauce sound really yummy,I love using sundried tomato,and I never heared bottarga too,,,,my firts post kind of funny ,,,just show the food picture with no explanation,,haha,,,I delete them :)

  19. I never tried this ingredient up to now. I must look for it. It sounds tasty!

  20. I'm glad you enjoyed Pike Place Market. It's an amazing place to shop, especially if you catch Seattle on a sunny day. I've never heard of bottarga. Very interesting!

  21. Just learned about bottarga at the farmers market today! :D

  22. I have never heard of this fish but I love and I am very familiar with the flavors you used for this dish! I am sure it pleased everyone in your family!

  23. I've never had this, but I've certainly met stumped shop owners w/ funny facial expressions caused by me/us asking them for a particular ingredient that they had never heard of, but should have. :)

  24. This does look fantastic! I'd never heard of bottarga, did a quick search online after reading your post and found out I can get it online here! That means I am going to be making this in the next month, I love all manner of seafood! Thanks for this!

  25. I have heard of this fish, and I am certainly intrigued now! This pasta dish looks really really good.

  26. Hmmm...never heard of it! It certainly looks yummy :)

  27. Now I need to look up bottarga. I've never heard of it, and at $200/pound I probably won't be tasting it so I'll enjoy it by looking at this delicious dish! It looks fabulous and I love the sun-dried tomatoes!

  28. Its so funny (and kind of scary) looking back at those early posts isn't it? This recipe looks fantastic!! I'll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for this now!

  29. Now I realy want to know what botarga tastes like. never seen that before. O.o

  30. Never heard of bottarga. Gotta look for it in Florida, but may wait till our son graduates in from Law School in May at those $$$$$.
    I feel the same way about all of my early post, I have even deleted a couple and gone back and updated some of my pics.