Over a long and excellent dinner last August, Dino Joannides relayed a recipe from the great Italian chef Roberto Pisano for Spaghetti con bottarga a secco, or Spaghetti with dried mullet roe. At the time I was fascinated by the method and the strict way it should be carried out, and although I vowed to try it I was unsuccessful in finding anywhere locally and the idea kind of fell by the wayside.
However, after the One night in London dinner last week I suddenly found myself in possession of a nice lobe of some of the best bottarga available from the Melograno Deli, weighing about 120g. Excitedly, I brought it home and over the weekend I set about making this dish.
I asked Dino if he could send me the recipe, but he insisted on a phone call to ensure I understood the principles of creating the dish, they were, as best as I can understand, as follows:
- The pasta must not touch fresh water
- The sauce must be a perfect emulsion
- Do NOT skimp on the bottarga
This last point being perhaps the most important; the problem with so many versions of this dish (I am told) is that they’re trying to save money by reducing the amount of bottarga. You will in fact need about 20 – 30g of bottarga per person for a nice portion, and a generous amount of thinly sliced bottarga as garnish.
In the end the discussion about creating the dish went on for days, i had to make it and re-make it over again because i’d got things wrong; the wrong pasta, the wrong method, not enough sauce, too much sauce et cetera…
But anyway i am now finally happy with it (and i hope Dino is). And so to make this extremely addictive dish, you will need:
- The best bronze die spaghetti you can buy (90g per person)
- Intense fish stock made from mullet or bass, enough to boil the pasta in
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Bottarga; about 20 – 30g per person total depending on personal taste, about 2/3 of which is finely grated or microplaned in advance, plus about 8 thin slices as garnish
- Finely chopped flat leaf parsley, preferably from Italy but any sunny country will help the flavor
Simmer the spaghetti in the stock until cooked but very firm. Meanwhile warm a frying pan over a very low heat, it shouldn’t be hot enough to fry anything.
When the pasta is almost done, cover the bottom of the frying pan with olive oil, then a sprinkling of the pre-grated bottarga. Lift the spaghetti out and into the pan and start tossing to coat in the oil and bottarga. The stock will now be nice and starchy from the spaghetti, add a couple of spoons into the pasta with a little more oil and bottarga, keep tossing the pasta, add a little more stock, oil and bottarga as you go; gradually you will form a thick emulsion which generously coats the pasta.
Emulsion starting to form
When you’re happy with the sauce, add a little flat leaf parsley and toss it all together again. Transfer as neatly as possible to a serving dish, grate more bottarga over the top and dot with slices of bottarga – how much is personal taste but i personally prefer a LOT!
A starter portion
A more generous lunchtime portion