When I was young the way to eat sea urchins (rizzi in Maltese or ricci in Italian) was to break them open at the beach, rinse them with sea water and then scoop out the custard-like orange gland and enjoy the sweet and briny flavour either on fresh bread or else just scooping them out with a spoon and eating them.
They used to be abundant and we would have them for lunch. They were served soon after they were picked and needless to say, freshness here is of the essence.
In recent years, spaghetti ai ricci has become ubiquitous in Maltese restaurants. At first you could find it only in fish restaurants but it has now become considerably more common. Every chef has his own version though in my view, the simplest method is the best. For a recipe you can take a look here.
While this is a dish that I continue to crave everytime I am in the Mediterranean and in particular my home country, Malta, I still think that the freshness of the sea urchin is somehow ruined by the hot pasta (even though there is no cooking – or very little cooking – involved).
So I wanted to create a dish which lifted the fresh flavours of the sea urchin and recreate childhood memories of eating sea urchins by the sea without cooking the sea urchin in any way to preserve the unique flavour.
The cauliflower’s taste works perfectly well and complements the briny taste of the sea urchin.
Cauliflower purée, cauliflower carpaccio, rizzi and toasted bread
Ingredients (Serves 4 to 6)
- Two small heads of cauliflower
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 to 2 garlic clove
- 1 small tub of sea urchin
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the cauliflower carpaccio
Slice the cauliflower into very thin slices lengthwise. Then fry gently in extra virgin olive oil until they are lightly browned. Season and reserve.
For the cauliflower purée
Boil water and then season with salt. When boiling add the remaining cauliflower florets and cook until tender (around 15 minutes). Drain and then blend. Season with salt and pepper and add the best quality extra virgin olive oil you can find. In this case, I used an olive oil made from Taggiasca olives from Liguria.
Grill some stale sourdough bread with a drizzle of olive oil and rubbed with the crushed garlic. When toasted, remove the garlic cloves and cut into very small pieces the size of croutons.
Assemble the cauliflower purée at the bottom of the plate. Gently place the cauliflower carpaccio on top. Sprinkle the bread on top and then add a dollop of fresh sea urchins. Add a drizzle of olive oil and serve immediately.