A few weeks ago we spent sometime in Sardinia, boating around the Golfo di Orosei. There are no roads in this area that lead to the water so boating and hiking are your only options. You can hike down for a swim, but the view from the sea is really the best way to admire the limestone cliffs that seem to spill into the aqua marine water.
Afternoons were spent exploring the coast, sunning and swimming. Evenings were spent gorging on Sardinian seafood. Grilled cuttlefish tossed with lots of garlic, olive oil, summer tomatoes, and parsley. A healthy squeeze of lemon and it tastes so good you grab the last cuttlefish without any thought or guilt for not offering it to your dinner date.
Of course, you don't need to be in Sardinia to enjoy these wonderful delights. There is, however, something quite Sardinian that you absolutely can't leave the island without trying - Bottarga. Bottarga is the salted, pressed, sunbaked, dried roe sack of mullet or tuna. Bottarga has been made from ancient times and is found all along the Mediterranean from France to Greece to Africa. The best comes from the Sardinian town of Cabras, on the Western coast. This is because bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean spawn in areas around the Western coast of Sardinia, and have since recorded history. I have a thing about eating bluefin tuna, because it has been nearly fished to extinction, so I go for mullet bottarga. The sacs tend to be smaller, but quality-wise considered very much on par. After the sac has been dried, it is dipped in a thin layer of beeswax which with a little effort peels off easily.
Bottarga isn't the most appealing thing to look at, but is delicious sliced thin over hot pasta tossed in olive oil, or on lemon juice and olive oil soaked bruschetta. A truffle slicer is perfect to shave little bits of bottarga over salad. A sharp cheese slicer or vegetable peeler will also do. Once sliced it takes on a burnt orange color with flecks of what looks like gold. The bottarga from this area is actually called 'Cabras Gold'. Bottarga prices are quite steep, but just the teeniest of amounts have the most intense flavor.
This is a simple way to recreate a little bit of Sardinia, wherever you may be. Start by bringing a pot of water to a boil (I don't salt the water because bottarga is salty). Meanwhile in a large fry pan heat up really good olive oil on low heat. As the olive oil gets warm sprinkle in finely minced garlic and lemon zest. Drop fresh pasta into the boiling water - this is one of those times where having fresh pasta is important. Within two or three minutes your fresh pasta should be ready. Drain and immediately add to the heated olive oil with garlic and lemon zest. Toss together with chopped flat leaf parsley. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon and add grated bottarga. Eat immediately.
Today bottarga is exported all over the world so it is possible to get it outside of Sardinia. A good Italian deli should have access to bottarga - they may not have in the shop but will likely be able to order it for you. At Christmas time they are more likely to have it in house. If you are in London, Lina Stores in Soho, carry bottarga year round. Just around the corner at I. Camisa&Son, the pre-shaved, jarred bottarga is readily available, with real bottarga sold at Christmas. My suggestion would be to head to I. Camisa&Son for their huge selection of delicious, homemade fresh pasta and then to Lina Stores for bottarga.
Lina Stores, 18 Brewer St., London W1F 0SH
I. Camisa&Son, 61 Old Compton St., London W1D 6HS