I first encountered bottarga (salted, dried grey mullet roe - dark orange, salty, vaguely smoky; a little like bonito flakes in flavour) at Inoteca, an Italian cheese and wine bar slash restaurant on the corner of Rivington and Orchard on the Lower East Side.
Long ago, when I worked nearby, and all my fellow employees were still friends, we'd sneak out together and have lunch there and come back after a bottle of prosecco. And no, that is not why Things Fell Apart. That is a whole book. And not one that I have written (previous employer exhales in relief). At Inoteca some of us would eat an egg cooked inside a thick slice of white bead, beneath melted fontina cheese, a drizzle of truffle oil, on top of a bed of roasted asparagus, and finished with a shaving of bottarga. The bottarga cost $2 extra. That made the egg cost $10, total. It was wonderful.
But that egg is still there.
A month or so ago I spotted bottarga, the whole roes bees-wax-coated and rigid in a big glass jar at The Lobster Place in the Chelsea Market, where beautiful fish is sold. It wasn't cheap. It wasn't cheap at all. But I convinced myself and my husband that we'd eke it out, microplane it fine, make it last. And half of it is still in the fridge all those weeks and three bottarga meals later. You don't need much.
This is not a recipe. Not only because I never measured and would be making up the measurements if I wrote them down here, but because this is very much up to your taste (only you know how much butter you need on your pasta). It's more about ingredients.
Red chile pepper
For these bottarga dishes I used Filotea pasta, which is delicate and is made with egg yolks.
While the past is cooking (in well-salted water), grate the bottarga fine (...erm - remove the wax first...). You need only about 2-3 tablespoons, grated, per person. Grate some proper parmesan fine, about 1/2 a cup per person. Have good unsalted butter on hand, cut into small pieces. Have a lemon cut in half and at the ready. Crumble a hot red chile pepper. Warm the bowls or plates from which you will eat.
As soon as the pasta has drained drop it back into the still-hot pot in which it cooked, with some slices of that butter.Toss gently to coat with the melting butter. Be generous with the butter. Scatter some cheese across and toss again. Now add the bottarga. It will sort of disappear but don't worry. You will taste it. Squeeze some lemon juice over. Add more cheese. Sprinkle some chile flakes over the top, and plate and serve at once...
And if you don't have bottarga? Do all of the above, anyway. Sometimes the simplest pasta is the most delicious.
And if you have a birthday coming up and would like to try it, guide your present-giver to the same French bottarga we bought).