As summer approaches, the nostalgia for produce from the Mediterranean increases. Despite the fact that summer in large parts of Northern Europe has yet to arrive this year, you can replicate that summer feeling using one ingredient which you can find easily in Italian delis and which is a perfect reminder of a hot summer day and your holidays in the South of Italy.
It is an ingredient that is synonymous with Sardinia and Sicily though it is used in a lot of countries in the Mediterranean like North Africa, the South of France, Greece and Malta.
An ancient ingredient, bottarga is salted, pressed and dried roe from either tuna or grey mullet.
Don’t be intimidated if you have never used this ingredient. If you have never tried it before, all you need to do is slice some bread and serve with olive oil and very thin slices of bottarga.
It may not look appealing in its block state with the wax which seals the red-golden colour but once grated or sliced it has an amazing flavour. It is rich and very savoury and does not need much to make it shine.
If you are using dried bottarga, you do not need to cook it. You can either serve it as an appetiser as explained above or else tossed with spaghetti. Making a spaghetti with bottarga is very simple. You just need to toss the hot pasta with the grated bottarga, olive oil and lemon juice. You may want to add cherry tomatoes and rocket to the spaghetti and this dish can be served in minutes.
In Sardegna, they also like to serve spaghetti vongole (clams) with bottarga which also works well. Bottarga can also be used like Parmesan to enhance other dishes such as scrambled eggs or scallops for example.
While Sardinian bottarga is mainly mullet, in Sicily they make bottarga using tuna which is slightly stronger in flavour but which can be used to the same effect.
To dry the bottarga, the roe is treated in salted water and then dried for a few days before it is covered in a thin layer of wax to protect it.
You can find bottarga in two ways, either in a block (which can keep in the fridge for a long time) or else ready grated in a jar. I normally prefer to use the block because it is much more versatile. If you get your hands on fresh bottarga (see photo below) you can use it by cooking it very gently in olive oil before tossing it with pasta. It is more delicate in flavour but exquisite.
Don’t miss our recipe of Spaghetti with Bottarga here.