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Sardinia and bottarga

December 12, 2007 | 11:14 am

Tomatoes_bottarga_4  For years, one of the things I’d smuggle back or ask friends to bring me from Italy was bottarga di muggine, pressed dried roe of gray mullet from Sardinia. It looks something like a pair of twin flattened sausages, and it's usually sold vacuum-packed. Good-quality bottarga tastes like the very essence of the sea and it can quickly escalate to a craving.

That's why I found myself on a couple of occasions tramping all over Milan hours before my plane was to leave, looking for some bottarga to take home with me. Now, though, you can find it at La Bottega Marino in West Los Angeles (310) 477-7777. Whew!

In this country, the fish roe is mostly served in spaghetti alla bottarga, shaved over warm, buttery spaghetti. That’s a fabulous simple dish and I’d be happy to use the last of my bottarga making it. But recently, I picked up a new Sardinian cookbook, the only one I’ve found that deals exclusively with the cooking of Italy’s second-largest island, and discovered more uses for bottarga in its pages. That alone is worth the price of “Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey” (Rizzoli, 2007, $39.95) from Sardinian-born chef Efisio Farris of Arcodoro in Houston.

Tomatoes are still hanging in there at the farmers market, so it’s not too late to make his bottarga with celery and tomatoes.  The recipe is easy, but the flavors together are magic.Sardinia_cookbook_6 Basically, you take a celery stalk, slice it thinly on the diagonal, mix with a big handful of halved cherry tomatoes, some tender chopped celery leaves, a couple of tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and a generous spoonful of grated bottarga. Season with salt and pepper, divide onto individual plates and garnish with bottarga shavings and a drizzle of olive oil.

More ideas from his book: calamari stuffed with ricotta and bottarga, fennel and crabmeat salad with bottarga, fettuccine with zucchini, zucchini blossoms and bottarga, bottarga and raw artichokes . . .

I think I'm going to have myself a bottarga fest.

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo by S. Irene Virbila