Do you ever do this thing, where you take really small bites just to make a scrumptious dish you're eating last just a little longer?
I only eat like that when I am deeply in love with a dish. Last night I shoved a big bite of the spaghetti with bottarga that I had whipped up for dinner into my mouth. And I was all, YES, INDEED!!! Every bite after that was tiny.
Folks, I've consumed and loved many pastas with bottarga, but this dish just knocked my socks off.
I recently made a glorious steak with bottarga butter, and I managed to squirrel away about four ounces of the pressed and dried grey mullet roe for another night. This was the night! An easy-peasy Sunday night dinner that you'd pay big money for in a fancy-pants Italian restaurant.
I'm dead serious about the ease of this dish. You only need spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, parsley, lemon and bottarga. You can knock it out in about the amount of time it takes to boil the pasta. The garlic needs slicing, the parsley chopping, the lemon zesting, and the bottarga grating or shaving. Cinchy. Halving the recipe for two is no problem.
I snagged the recipe on the internet. A Mario Batali number. He is a good man. A really good man. I've always been a fan, but now I may be a stalker.
When I first read the recipe, I was actually worried that there were too many ingredients, because I remember enjoying similar dishes with just the olive oil, bottarga and possibly garlic. I worried that the lemon zest, parsley, and crushed red pepper would be gilding the lily.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
For me this spaghetti with bottarga was perfection, the most harmonious balance of flavors. It isn't lemony, because you only use the zest. You do experience the perfume of the lemon, but it is just a sparkle of citrus that brightens up the dish. It isn't spicy, but there is a warmth. The ratio of olive oil to spaghetti is spot-on, the strands slipperily slicked. It is garlicky, but you do not suffer from an allium assault.
And then you have the bottarga itself, a funny looking orange slab of fish roe that is encased in wax when you buy it. It isn't cheap (between $30 and $80 on Amazon) and you can't buy it at the supermarket, but you can find it and you definitely should splurge on this delicacy. I've found it on the internet and in local cheese shops and specialty stores.
It is not fishy and weird. Bottarga has a subtle fish flavor. It is a little bit briny, but it possesses sweetness as well. To me the flavor of bottarga might best be categorized as umami. Bottarga is incredibly delicious and it adds body and depth to whatever you're using it in.
I can tell I'm failing a little bit here. It's just so difficult to really capture the flavor of this unique ingredient in words that I'm familiar with. Argh! Suffice it to say, I was sighing and moaning throughout the meal. I almost skipped out on watching Game of Thrones with A. so I could share this recipe with you last night. I woke in the night itching to get to my computer. I'll also confess to scraping up every remaining crumb of the bottarga from my counter like a jittery coke-head hoping for one last high. Oh you know what I mean. Plate of pasta!
There's only enough for me. No sharing this time. So someday this week, when A. is at work and Fe. is sound asleep, lunch is going to be quietly off the hook.
Mario Batali's Spaghetti alla Bottarga
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound spaghetti
2 bunches Italian parsley, finely chopped, to yield 1/2 cup
6 ounces bottarga, tuna or grey mullet
Zest of 2 lemons
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add 3 tablespoons salt.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil, crushed red pepper and garlic over low heat until fragrant, approximately 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Cook the spaghetti, per the package instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the oil mixture and add the parsley. Mix well over medium heat and pour into a warm serving bowl. Shave or grate the bottarga over the bowl and sprinkle with the lemon zest. Serve immediately.