If your knowledge of the Italian islands begins and ends with the second season of The White Lotus, Katie Parla is here the help you out. The author, television host, culinary guide, and more has chosen that region’s food to spotlight in her most recent cookbook, Food of the Italian Islands. From sauce-laden pastas to simple seafood, she walks you through the cuisine of Sicily, Sardinia, the Venetian lagoon, and lesser-known isles. You’ll be booking your own White Lotus getaway in no time (hopefully without all the death and drama).
Below, Parla shares her recipe for Spaghetti alla Bottarga, a quintessential Sardinian dish that showcases the island’s cured roe, which locals have been eating for millennia, the author told Robb Report in an email. The simple dish packs a ton of flavor without requiring much hands-on time. If you’re looking for another way to use up any leftover roe, Parla loves a classic spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) with a flurry of bottarga grated on top before serving. We could certainly get used to island eating.
This is the simplest, most straightforward Sardinian dish out there. Bottarga di muggine (cured gray mullet roe) has been a staple on the southwestern and eastern coasts of the island for millennia. Unlike fresh fish, it has a long shelf life, so it is a practical pantry item that also delivers a major flavor punch. The briny, savory note delivered by bottarga bloomed in oil has been fully embraced by Sardinians, and you’ll find sliced or grated roe lending flavor to beautifully slick oily pasta sauces throughout the island. High-quality bottarga di muggine is available online (Gustiamo.com carries the excellent Oro di Cabras brand), and I recommend purchasing the whole lobes rather than the pre-grated variety, as the bottarga is fresher and has a more intense flavor. Use what you need, then wrap the rest tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to a few months or in the freezer, where it will keep for even longer.
Serves 4 to 6
- ¼ c. plus 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 3 oz. bottarga (I like bottarga di muggine), sliced as thinly as possible, plus more for grating
- Sea salt
- 1 lb. dried spaghetti or spaghettoni
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over low heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and cook just until it takes color, about three minutes. Turn off the heat, add the bottarga, and set aside to bloom in the oil. After the oil has been infused with the bottarga flavor, remove and discard the garlic (or even better, smear it on a slice of toasted bread to enjoy as a snack).
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water until it tastes like a seasoned soup. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Transfer the pasta to the pan with the oil with a tablespoon of the pasta cooking water and cook over medium-high heat until the flavors marry and the water has been absorbed. Add more pasta cooking water as needed to keep the sauce shiny.
Serve with more bottarga grated on top.
Spaghetti alla Bottarga con Pistacchi (Spaghetti with Bottarga and Pistachios)
I love this twist, inspired by a dish from Il Principe e Il Pirata in Pantelleria. In a food processor, I buzz up a cup of shelled salted raw pistachios with two tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic I used when blooming the bottarga until the mixture is chunky. Then I add the mixture to the pan with the bloomed bottarga and toss with spaghetti.
By Katie Parla, excerpted from Food of the Italian Islands.