Fishing is part and parcel of Mediterranean life despite the fact that overfishing has made it much less enjoyable for everyone over the years.
I remember as a young boy going to fish with my father and losing patience because we would catch just a handful of fish. This must have been more than 20 years ago. Now with the benefit of hindsight, the actual joy of fishing is not necessarily in the act of fishing itself but rather in the preparation, the early wake up call, rushing out of bed trying not to wake anyone, dressing up quickly and bracing the cooler early morning air which is a respite from the hot stifling summer heat.
It is the beauty of watching nature at its best with some stunning land and seascapes, an amazing sunrise, good company and maybe catching fish in the process.
Moreover, in this day when we are constantly communicating, it is good to be out at sea without a phone connection. If ever there was a good way to wind down, this was one.
At this time of year, the amateurs that head out to sea are mainly trying to catch allungi or albacore, one of the types of tuna which can be found in the Mediterranean. In a few days attention will shift to what is the staple fish of the Maltese diet, the lampuka (also known as dolphin fish although it has nothing to do with dolphins).
People have been complaining that the season for allungi has not been good this year but on our fishing trip some 15 nautical miles out of Malta, we managed to catch one and lost another two.
Bottarga, as the Italians call the roe of fish from tuna and mullet among others is not a delicacy in Malta and I am really wondering why. I will have to ask around to find out what happens to the fish roe once the fish are cleaned. A staple of Sicily and Sardegna, one can normally find it occasionally in restaurants around Malta but it is mainly imported and of the dry type.
There have been stories of fishermen exchanging their catches at sea so maybe this is where the bottarga ends up. In any case, for the first time ever, I had got my hands on fresh bottarga. I have normally used the dry version which can be found in many Italian delis. This is the first time I used fresh bottarga. The end result was marvellous.
To dry the bottarga, you normally need to treat it in salted water and then let it dry for a few days before it is covered in a thin layer of wax to protect it. But in this case, nothing beats the freshness for a pure taste of the sea.
Here is the recipe.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 500 grammes of spaghetti
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
- Fresh bottarga
- Extra-virgin olive oil.
- A handful of parsley, finely chopped.
- 300 grammes cherry tomatoes
- Rocket leaves to garnish.
Boil a pot of water and then salt accordingly when it is boiling. Prepare the sauce. Add extra virgin olive oil to the pan and then the chopped garlic. Leave for two minutes and then add the bottarga. Fry for a few minutes (around 5 minutes). The eggs will come out but you may want to break the sack and scoop out the bottarga. Throw the pasta in boiling water. Add the tomatoes to the sauce and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and add the chopped parsley.
Once the spaghetti is al dente (I normally remove the pasta two minutes before the time indicated in the packet) amalgamate with the sauce and serve immediately. If you want, you can garnish with a few rocket leaves.
Bottarga is very common in Sicily and Sardegna and a white wine from these two regions would work very well. In this case, I ate the bottarga matched with the Benanti Bianco Di Caselle from the Etna region of Sicily. A match made in heaven.