Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Simple pleasures

My Bottarga arrived! With the patience of a five-year-old on Christmas morning, I ripped the package right open. There, before me, was a gorgeous, soft, amber cake of salted, pressed mullet roe. It smelled divine, like the ocean: briny, slightly fishy, reminding me of salted anchovies. Never having eaten Bottarga before, this was not to be just another average day - this was an occasion!

In Sardinian cooking Bottarga is traditionally cooked in, or grated on top of, pasta. In Lebanon the Bottarga is sliced thin, drizzled with olive oil, garnished with a slice of garlic, and then eaten with soft triangles of pita bread. But, I decided to go with the Sardinian preparation – with fresh made pasta, of course.

I rolled, cut, and cooked about a half-pound of fresh linguine, minced a few cloves of garlic, a handful of parsley, and finely diced about two tablespoons of the Bottarga. Then, I poured a generous amount of good quality olive oil into my pan, added the garlic and about a half teaspoon of red pepper flakes and let that cook to infuse the oil. Once the aroma of garlic filled the kitchen, I added in the Bottarga and let it sizzle just long enough to release its flavor. My salivary glands were just beginning to get happy in anticipation. I added the cooked linguini and enough of the pasta cooking water to marry with the infused olive oil, tossing it well to create a light sauce. With its subtle, briny, oceany, and stinky funk, fresh grated Pecorino seemed like a winning choice to compliment the Bottarga.

Now, don't think me greedy. Although I could've been quite content keeping this little treasure to myself, I did invite a few girlfriends over for lunch...

I served the pasta alongside a crisp salad of raw artichokes, preserved meyer lemons, and Ricotta Salata.

Finally sitting to eat, I twisted the long tendrils of linguini around my fork, making sure each ribbon of pasta was sufficiently speckled with Bottarga. I took my first bite. Heaven. The Bottarga was much more subtle than I had imagined. It lent the perfect hint of briny-saltiness to the pasta, and melted in my mouth.

Lingering over the platter of pasta, working our way through a few bottles of vin gris, chatting about life, and gardening, and food, it was a perfect meal and a perfect day. Oh, and for dessert, we did what I would assume any proper Italian would. We tore apart big, crusty pieces of peasant bread and dragged them through the salty, Bottarga and garlic infused oil from the bottom of the pot and ate that too.

Mmmm, if life were only this sweet every day (I'd never fit into my pants again)...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Food For Thought

Every year, for the past 5 years, I've gotten this asinine idea in my head that I’m going to fast. How healthy of me, right? Last year, I tried fasting at a special “cleansing” resort in Thailand. Even surrounded by dozens of other fasters, I broke down after three days and gave into my desire for solid food. Why, I asked myself, would I come all the way to Thailand and not eat? Good question. And why, again, when I am in a beautiful location with a bounty of incredible produce and ingredients at my fingertips would I willingly choose to abstain from eating? I honestly don’t know. My nutritionist tells me that my hunger is a monster that I need to let die. But, I want food! Asking a chef not to eat is like a asking a racecar driver to slow down on the racetrack. Not possible.

I’ve tried distracting myself from thoughts of food. I fertilized and cultivated the patch in the backyard where my vegetable garden will soon be. But, vegetables = food. I go on walks: past my favorite coffee shop, past my favorite restaurant. I read books - about food. Even the Internet is not safe! Last night, I’d punched in my credit card number and clicked “purchase” before I even realized what I was doing. And now, as I slurp my way through veggie broths and green juices, easing myself back into the world of solid food, I eagerly await a shipment of Sardinian Bottarga di Muggine. I think I’m going to put this whole fasting notion to rest, once and for all. I sense a plate of Spaghetti alla Bottarga in my future…

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