Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Sliced Trikalinos Bottarga photos courtesy of the importer
If you like caviar, I’m sure you will love bottarga.
Bottarga is a culinary specialty that is produced in a few countries around the Mediterranean, including Italy (bottarga), Greece (Avgotaraho αυγοτάραχο), Portugal (butarga), Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia (boutargue) and Brazil in South America. In Asia, the Japanese are also fans and call it karasumi.
Bottarga is salted, cured fish roe primarily from grey mullet. Most of the bottarga produced in the Mediterranean region is from grey mullet egg lobes salted, dried and, in many cases coated with bee’s wax. It's considered to be a very desirable delicacy in Italy, particularly in Sardinia (Bottarga di Muggine) where the majority of the Italian bottarga is produced – in fact, only a small percentage of the bottarga Italy produces is ever exported outside of the country. Another major producer of botarga is Brazil, in South America; Brazil produces botarga known as “Ouro do Brasil” (Brazilian Gold).
I personally like Avgotaraho, the grey mullet roe produced at the marshy coast near Messolongi, in Greece; I grew up eating that delicacy once or twice a year, whenever my family would travel to Messolonggi to visit relatives that lived in that city. The Trikalinos brand, which is farmed in Messolomgi, was very favorably mentioned by one of the chefs I talked to for this story, and the Trikalinos’ importer was kind enough to send me a sample of the product. It is as tasty as I remembered.
In Italy, bottarga is considered a luxury item and is especially popular in pasta dishes; spaghetti alla bottarga is a very traditional Italian recipe.
When I received the Trikalinos bottarga sample I decided to cook a Sardinian style Spaghetti alla Botarga, Ricetta Sarda. It is a simple but very tasty dish where the bottarga is finely grated and mixed with a good amount of lemon juice and olive oil to form a creamy sauce. It's loosened with a couple spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water and seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, tossed with the hot spaghetti, then finished with an additional sprinkling of grated bottarga on top.
12 ounces spaghetti
6 ounces mullet bottarga – I used the delicious Trikalinos sample
3 or 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil – the best quality you can get
Black pepper to taste
Cook the spaghetti in salty water until al dente. Drain and reserve a little of the cooking water.
Squeeze the juice of both lemons.
Grate 2/3 of the bottarga in a bowl. Add the lemon juice and stir to combine to almost a cream. Slowly add the olive oil to form a thick sauce. Stir the reserved hot water into the bottarga cream to loosen, then season with freshly ground black pepper. Add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss to coat thoroughly.
Serve the balance of the bottarga grated over the pasta.
Another, a little more involved bottarga recipe I received from Marina Ramasso, the owner and top toque at Osteria del Paluch located at Piemonte’s Baldissero Torinese. A couple years ago, she was kind enough to give me her version of Spaghettini alla Bottarga, a classic primo piatto that is served in her restaurant alongside her other very traditional regional dishes.
According to Marina, there have been three levels of cuisine in Italy; one that the rich or noble families ate, one for the middle class and the third for the peasants. She is seriously committed in her research to rediscover the old ways of food preparation, so that she can develop a new Italian cuisine by melding together these culinary levels.
I made a small change to her recipe using Panko, instead of regular white bread crumbs.
3 tbsp Panko
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
2-3 cloves garlic (to taste), thinly sliced
14 oz spaghettini
½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (divided)
7 oz Bottarga di muggine (mullet bottarga)
Juice from 1 lemon
Zest from two small lemons
Heat a pot of water with a tablespoon of salt. When the water boils, add the spaghettini. Cook to al dente.
Constantly stirring, fry the panko bread crumbs in half of the olive oil until golden; the oil should be hot but not smoking. Dry panko on paper towels. Pay attention when frying the bread crumbs; they cook very quickly and they can easily burn!
Slice 2 or 3 cloves of garlic as thin as possible. Chop finely a handful of parsley.
Grate ¾ of the bottarga, and cut the balance into very thin slices.
Heat a pan over medium heat and add the balance of the olive oil. Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes and stir constantly, so the garlic doesn't burn, until the garlic softens. Lower the heat to low. Add in the grated bottarga and stir with a wooden spoon. Add about 3/4 of the parsley and the lemon zest and stir to mix. Cook sauce for about 3 minutes; then turn off the heat. Still stirring, add the lemon juice and discard the lemon zest.
When the pasta is cooked, take off the heat and drain, saving about three tablespoons of the water. Turn on the heat low under the olive oil/bottarga etc. mixture. Add the pasta to the pan. If the pasta is too dry, add some of the reserved water from the cooked pasta. Toss to mix. Serve immediately decorating the top of the plates with the balance of bottarga and the rest of the parsley and a lemon slice on the side.
At a press trip to Torino a number of years ago, we also tasted Orecchiette con Uova di Pesce, a small, cup-shaped pasta with fresh pike eggs. Because I don’t have pike eggs easily available where I live, I usually substitute fresh shad roe in season, which makes the dish a delightful spring variation.
No matter what your culinary inclinations are, you can’t leave Torino without having gelato, the exceptional concoction that’s Italy’s version of ice-cream. Caffe Fiorio, Via Po 8, is considered by the locals as having the best gelato, so we stopped by for a scoop on a cone. Barbara tried their signature flavor, gianduiotto, a blend of chocolate and hazelnut paste. According to her it was heavenly. I had a scoop of black cherry and I concur. The next day we had more at a gelateria in the Lingotto mall, by our hotel. It was sweeter and not as light (I guess if you have had the best everything else pales by comparison). I could get very easily used to having gelato every day!
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