I have never been to Sardinia, but I was inspired to make this dish after watching (and re-watching) Anthony Bourdain’s epic trip to the island (Sardegna, in Italian) on an episode of No Reservations. One of the largest islands in the Mediterranean, it is technically part of Italy, as far as geography goes, but it has its own proud culture, language, and identity. Being raised on an island for nearly half of my life, I totally understand this. Hawai’i is technically part of the United States, but there is so much about it that is not typically “American”. Hawai’i has its own distinct style of food, culture, and language – spam musubi, the annual Aloha Festivals Parade, and the use of “Eh, brah!” are things that are near and dear to my heart. Island people are usually ferociously proud of their cultures. My parents are from the Philippines, so I’m basically a product of two proud island cultures, as well as American! I feel you, Sardinia. I do.
One of the food items that Sardinia is known for is bottarga, the salt-cured sac of grey mullet roe, which dates back to the 16th century. This divine ingredient can be eaten sliced or grated, and reminds me a bit of Japanese mentaiko, the spicy cod roe that is often also served on spaghetti. It can be challenging to find bottarga; I was fortunate enough to get tipped off when one of my favorite wine boutiques, Biondivino, was getting a shipment in, so I snagged a little bit and saved it to make this dish. Bottarga is not spicy, but it is delicately briny, and the usage of both sliced and grated bottarga in this dish provides a nice textural experience. We enjoyed this very simple dish for lunch with some friends who came up to visit us last weekend, and paired it with an unfiltered Pinot Noir from Papapietro Perry, but for a more authentically Sardinian pairing, try a Cannonau (2009 Gabbas ‘Dule’ Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva is currently my favorite).
Spaghetti alla Bottarga di Muggine
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound spaghetti
1 bunch Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, finely chopped
6 ounces Bottarga, preferably mullet, but you can use tuna as well
Slice half of the bottarga into thin slices (like the photo above), and grate the rest. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil, saute garlic over low heat until just fragrant, about 2 minutes, and remove garlic from the pan (do not discard). Add red pepper to the oil, raise the heat to medium, and add sliced bottarga and saute for a few minutes, then remove from heat. Cook spaghetti according to package instructions until just al dente. Drain and pour into oil mixture, add garlic back to pan, and sprinkle the parsley over the top, adding a little bit of the pasta water if you need to loosen the noodles. Toss to mix well over medium heat and pour into serving bowl. Add a generous amount of grated Bottarga, give it a final toss, and serve immediately.