May 13, 2009

Linguine with bottarga and hazelnuts recipe

Today I am posting a pasta recipe that here in Italy signals the onset of summer. We're experiencing a wonderful heat wave, and banqueting is my favorite way of celebrating good things. I hate the cold, you see.

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Salt gets bad press, and it doesn't deserve to. Some of the world’s greatest foods get their flavor from lots of salt. Ever had Malossol caviar (Malossol is Russian for 'a little salt')? What about Prosciutto? Do you like cheese? There is very little cheese that is salt-free. How about baccalĂ  - salt preserved cod for Atlantic crossings? I could go on and on.

But are you familiar with bottarga–that delightful salted product that is treasured in Sardinia and Sicily and even in mainland Liguria and Calabria where it is called ovotarica? It is sometimes also named 'poor man's caviar', but this is a demeaning moniker, as bottarga is bottarga is bottarga!

The first thing to understand about this bizarre food is that it is the salted, dried roe of either Muggine (or Cefalo), Italian for Flathead Grey Mullet (Mugil cephalus) or tuna. Sardinia prefers the grey mullet roe, whereas Sicily prefers tuna roe. Both types are great, provided they are suitably dried; the semi-dried product is in fact not nearly as dramatic.

The roe is expertly removed from the fish and then salted for about a week before being pressed and then hung to be air dried for about 30 days. In fact the length of drying is important.

Now what do you do when you pawn a family heirloom for some of this salty luxury? The answer is to keep it really simple. Either eat it sliced as a vodka appetizer, like during Roman Jewish Seders; or use it to make a very simple pasta dish.

Linguine with Bottarga and Hazelnuts

If bottarga is absolutely impossible for you to obtain, you can substitute it with this little trick an aforementioned chef friend taught me: blend 4 anchovy fillets with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and 2 fistfuls of breadcrumbs. Toast the mixture in a non-stick pan for 3-4 minutes, and proceed as follows, assembling:

500 g (1.1 lb) linguine
80 g (1/3 cup) bottarga (or its clever substitute replacement)
50 g (1/4 cup) shelled hazelnuts, coarsely ground
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small sprig of Italian flat leaf parsley (optional), chopped
100 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly milled black pepper

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes, then discard. Add the ground hazelnuts to the oil, and toast them briefly. Add the chopped parsley (if you're using it) and remove the saucepan from the stove, setting it aside for the moment.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of very lightly salted water. While the pasta is cooking, pare very, very thin slices from the block of bottarga with a vegetable peeler. For a milder effect, simply grate the bottarga into a bowl, add the hazelnuts in their oil, and stir until you obtain a paste. Drain the pasta and pour it into a large skillet; stir in the sauce and cook over a brisk flame for 1 minute, tossing the pasta energetically.

Go crazy with the pepper mill and splash just a suspicion of lemon juice.


  1. great piece. you make food come to life.

    viva la' salt! (and warm weather of course)

  2. Wow, Hazelnuts, this sounds delish, lots of pepper! Thanks for sharing this dish. Grazie:)

  3. Blogger ate my comment again!!!!
    What I said was: "Divine!, I am going to use the pseudo Bottarga and of course sip,sip sip"
    Grazie, bella Lola.xx♥

  4. Sounds delicious.
    I love cavier, although it's no way the real stuff I eat it works for me.

  5. Mmmmmhhhhh delicious! I love bottarga! I usually buy one in Orbetello, the cooperativa I pescatori have mullets in the lagoon and make their own beautiful orange, tasty bottarga. When I am desperate I get a jar at the Delicatessen...

  6. Lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola! Geez, girl, you make my heart sing. That sounds like heaven on a plate.

  7. This sounds absolutely delicious...and I don't know if it's all that talk about 'saltiness'- but my mouth is watering:)

  8. I've never heard of Bottarga, but as you describe it and the clever substitute I can imagine the salty, tangy, taste - and combined with sweet hazelnuts - wow, what a combo. Thank you.

  9. This sounds delicious. I love bottarga.

  10. Oh my, this is a dangerous site!!!! So mouth watering!!!! I'm delighted to meet you Lola!!! We have a mutual friend :-) C.Michael Cox!! Your blog is beautiful!!! Thanks for stopping by and for your lovely comment! I am honored!!!! ~Janine XO

  11. You never disappoint. Your simple, fresh recipes are feasts to the eye and the palate. I don't think I have ever seen bottargha in the states, though. Maybe I need to contact Dean and De Luca for this imported delicacy. As for hazelnuts, Oregon has them in abondance.

  12. I love salt and use many different kinds. Pink, gray oh yummy.
    What do you mean about junk mail?

  13. Sounds delicious but here's the question, my husband's eye bulges when he eats too much salt, is this an eye bulging recipe or just a lick the fingers one?

  14. Heat waves are wonderful? Must have been a really cold winter. We need you over here to cook for us.

  15. This sounds delicious, Lola! Hazelnuts and bottarga. I think I could get used to that combination.

    I've recently found that I have a sensitivity to wheat, and so am kind of at a loss about pasta. Waah. I hope to find a good substitute. I'm glad you said what you did about salt, though. I use a lot of it and can't imagine doing otherwise.

    Love, dear...

  16. Yum yum is right Lola.

    How did you get to know about all this food. I am a total North American eater meaning I eat shit basically.

    Love Renee xoxo

  17. Hi Lola! I'm enjoying catching up on all your amazingly rich and gorgeous blogposts.. :)

  18. Erin - Eye-bulging I think. Although it is not with salt per se, it's saltY, because the ingredient is. Has it something to do with his thyroid?

    Snowbrush - I absolutely HATE the cold, so heat waves are welcome here. It was a cold and rainy winter actually... Will definitely come over to cook!

    Sallymandy - A good wheat substitute for celiac or wheat intolerants is Kamut or pasta made with farro (spelt).

    Renee - I love learning about things I love...

    Karen - Welcome back! Sit and relax while I get you something to nibble while you read...

  19. Brian - Yes I totally agree 100%!
    Chuck - Grazie to you!
    Natalie - I wonder why this comment gobbling thing happens between our two blogs...
    Mandy - I love caviar, it's so sexy...
    Valeria - Buonissima, la adoro anch'io.
    Tessa - Tes-tes-tes-tes-sa-sa-sa-sa-saaa! Let's get a duo together.
    Ms Lucy - Droolworthy saltiness! Yum
    Jennifer - Glad you enjoyed!
    Janine - It's lovely to meet you too! You're always welcome here in my kitchen, there's always good food and wine; and lots of fun people too.
    Rosaria - I'm dure D&D has bottarga. I didn't know Oregon was nutty... Ciao amica

  20. Lola the voice over sounds so cool.

    I am with you on all things Ben Harper.

    Angelique and Don had one of his songs for their wedding song and I totally forget what it was.

    I will find out.

    Love Renee xoxo

  21. Just happened on your blog...and wanted to give some suggestions. Bottarga, as can be imagined is not just Italian. In Spain one can buy various kinds which come mostly from Africa( Morocco) and from larger fish. It's normally not
    very good and the cleanliness is less than desirable. Same in Turkey. But in Greece I was able to buy some of the best possible bottarga and much cheaper than in Italy. You can find it in one of the delicatessen shops inside the Athen's airport but also in other shops around the country. It is especially good because they seal it in wax. The obvious advantages are that they can use less salt ( more flavour), it's not overly dry and it's protected from further oxydation. The first time we had some, the whole 2 small pieces disappeared before we could get to half the bottle of Chard. Yes, I believe that an oaky, woody Chard ( Aussie style: the one that now everyone loves to hate) is ideally suited for bottarga: it has a resonance with it.
    And as now we are at truffles time, (we happen to have one largish truffle that needs to be consumed least neighbors start queing up at the door) and considering that bottarga is made of eggs, this evening I might try some spaghetti with bottarga and truffle. Who knows, maybe it's good.

  22. We were only a few, to work the eggs of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. All the fish is bound by ICAT, tons of tuna that can be caught, assigned to the individual fisherman. Much of the catch ends up in Japan and we have a hard time finding tuna. If you draw tuna percent, less than half will be females, and if the fish is caught, it is not immediately bled, will go bad, because the blood goes in necrosis, damaging all the fish, and can cause serious damage to those who eat meat . I Tonni that we select are processed immediately, ensuring the highest quality, bottarga only getting first choice. Our products are appreciated by the great chefs in the world.