Thursday, April 19, 2012

pasta with meyer lemon zest, ricotta, arugula, and bottarga

pasta with meyer lemon, ricotta, arugula, and bottarga

Hi from 20,000 feet.

Somehow my friends and I wound up sitting in a row with loads of extra legroom. It feels a little bit like we’re flying first class, only better – because we paid coach prices. This extra legroom is nice; I don’t feel quite like a sardine. But I’m ready to land and to get my pj’s on. Being a bachelorette is nice, but coming home to your fiancé and cat is the bees’ knees.

At the moment when I write this, New York is a little over an hour away. Seattle, where I decided to spend my bachelorette weekend, treated us well. Must now wear pants with an elastic waist kind of well.

from air

There were a lot of doughnuts (think every morning before breakfast). Some pork buns. Sesame balls filled with red bean paste. Pirozhki. Pizza. We ate a lot of things made out of dough or wrapped in dough. That seemed to have been the theme and it was delicious.

We had oysters and Dungeness crab from the kindest and most generous folks at Taylor Shellfish. Friends, if you ever find yourself in Seattle, do yourself a favor and head on over there. The shellfish and the kind, generous people working there, will blow you away.

the remains of our breakfast after
a dozen new favorite drink

There was tajarin at Spinasse and green almonds at Sitka and Spruce. Both – amazing. Neither I can get out of my mind. Also, fava bean leaves – incredible!

I was threatened with “dancers”, it being a bachelorette weekend and all, but instead the girls got me a massage, which couldn’t have been more welcome.

In short – it’s was an amazing trip. The kind when you pause and think, I need to do this more often with my girlfriends. These are the moments that stay with you; this is what makes a life.

Also, Seattle weather, thank you for the sunshine and the blue skies. You’re a class act.

But let’s get to the matters at hand here. Which have to do with bottarga. And writing. There’s a great opportunity for me to dither and so I’ll try to keep it short in order to still keep your attention for the actual story that made this recipe possible. This will get long; bear with me.

sitka & spruce

First, a bit of history. One of my favorite things to read in the New York Times, back in the day, was this column written by Amanda Hesser. It was called “Cooking for Mr. Latte” and it chronicled her courtship with a New Yorker writer, Tad Friend, and their subsequent marriage. Reading it, I swooned. It seemed like the perfect romance, one of words and meals, all woven together. For a girl who moved away from family and missed her friends, these stories made me feel more connected to the city. I’ve written before (though I can’t seem to locate those posts) that New York is a city you have to court before it opens up to you. It’s not a city that eagerly will date you – it has many other suitors to choose from.

I had so loved those articles, so when Amanda published the essays bound in a book, I promptly bought it. I’ve loved it and recommended it to many others over the years. [I’m on my now-third copy (the first two were borrowed and never returned, but never mind about that) which is just as dog eared and grease-stained as its predecessors.]

These days you can find Amanda over at Food 52, which has been the cause of many hours of procrastination ahem, research and inspiration.

sitka & spruce

I wound up cooking many recipes from the book, but one of my absolute favorites was this humble pasta dish with Meyer lemons, parmesan cheese, crème fraîche and arugula. When I lived in my tiny apartment in Chelsea, with a single counter smaller than most cutting boards, it was one of my most go-to dinners. I made it over and over and over, and when Meyer lemons were out of season, undeterred, I would turn to regular lemons. When I was once out of crème fraîche, fresh ricotta stepped in to substitute and wound up taking up permanent residence. It was an affordable, easy, rustic meal that was well within my means.

That is until I made an acquaintance with bottarga.

Bottarga, for those of you looking it up this very moment, is pressed, salted mullet roe (or tuna, and sometimes swordfish). It’s thinly sliced or shaved on food and is prominent in Sardinian and Sicilian cuisines. Bottarga is expensive, lasts practically forever and is an investment along the lines of fine balsamic vinegar. It has a salty, briny, almost metallic (but in a pleasant way) taste. It goes beyond salt’s abilities and gives an incredible finishing touch to a dish. I knew it was costly, but I had no idea just how costly it could be. My last piece was generously gifted to me by Melissa Clark, who introduced me to some of my favorite things (pekmez, anyone?). I shaved bottarga on pasta, whipped it into butter, sprinkled it on pieces of buttered toast. I was deeply in love with it.

pasta with meyer lemon, ricotta, arugula, and bottarga

A few weeks ago, I was on my way to do some cooking and styling with Andrew Scrivani. He had asked me to pick up a couple of bagels at Russ and Daughters, en route to studio, so I took a slight detour from my usual itinerary. There, I managed to strike a conversation with what turned out to be the store owner, Mark. I’m still not sure how it all went down; I was just minding my own business, but I found myself, suddenly, explaining to him what I did for a living (which can’t be done in a single tidy phrase). Suddenly, in mid-sentence Mark suddenly went, “Oh, hi Ruth!” (hugs exchanged) “Ruth, this is Olga. Olga, this is Ruth.”

I turned around and there was Ruth Reichl. She extended her hand, “Nice to meet you.”

I managed to squeeze out a “Oh it’s good to see you again. Actually we met for 2 seconds at Melissa Clark’s book party.” Then, immediately, I felt like an idiot because I just corrected Ruth Reichl. Who would do such a thing? So what if she doesn’t remember you? Ugh. Just. Stop. Talking. Please.

“Ah, yes, but it was such a bad night. I had lost my wallet seconds ago and felt so disorganized and overwhelmed. I’m so sorry, but that night was a blur.”

And so we chatted for a bit about lost wallets and feeling adrift without them. I shared how I now make a copy of my wallet’s contents so that if anything ever goes awry, I can just pick up the phone and cancel all my cards. But the entire time, I kept thinking, “I should’ve pulled my hair up. I should’ve brushed it. I should’ve dabbed some lip gloss to look semi-pulled together. I have under eye circle the size of Texas.”

Instead there I stood, in front of Ruth Reichl, and the owner of Russ and Daughers, in a ripped, stained tee shirt (who styles food wearing their finery? Not me!), sopping wet hair, and those giant under-eye circle (thanks, genetics) because make-up was too much of a bother that morning. I was blabbing and floundering. While Ruth was lovely and poised, I had diarrhea of the mouth.

pasta with meyer lemon, ricotta, arugula, and bottarga

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted bottarga. It was sitting in a far corner by the smoked salmon as if forgotten by the world. I had previously been trying to find it in fine food stores and was told they don’t have any at the time. This was my chance to get it. I felt like I struck a goldmine.

I pointed to the bottarga and the guy behind the counter wrapped it up. I asked for some bagels and the lox.

And then the guy rang me up.

“That’ll be one hundred and sixteen dollars,” he said.

Holy shit. My bottarga was almost one hundred bucks. One. Hundred. Dollars.

Ruth and the store owner were standing to my right and I couldn’t tell if they were paying attention to the transaction, but I was too embarrassed to say that I might have changed my mind on the bottarga, and be remembered as the girl who didn’t purchase the bottarga because it was too pricey. Freelance writers (especially budding ones) are not in a position to spend a lot of money especially on what should be filed under “non essential ingredient”. But I was so flummoxed, overwhelmed, and embarrassed by my freelance poverty, that I meekly extended my credit card and shut my eyes tight, as if doing so would somehow lessen the pain of one-hundred-dollar fish eggs. It didn’t.

pasta with meyer lemon, ricotta, arugula, and bottarga

Because there are currently sixteen Meyer lemons in my crisper, I’ve been making this pasta semi-regularly. During the Meyer lemon season a month or so ago, I stockpiled those lemons like they were non-perishables. When I did the actual count, the number of lemons was thirty. That’s not counting the lemons that I was gifted by my Kimchi Cookbook co-author, Lauryn, which became preserved Meyer lemons.

So, Meyer lemons, lots of fresh ricotta, arugula, and parmesan, mixed with egg pasta was finished with the nearly-one-hundred-dollar bottarga. It was, beyond words, good. Amazing. Even better than its bottarga-less version, which is still amazing enough to be a staple in our kitchen. I like to think of it that the pasta got a sexy, albeit expensive, upgrade. Kind of like putting a Chanel clutch to dress up an outfit from the Gap. If this is me calling bottarga couture – then so be it.

Pasta with Meyer Lemon Zest, Ricotta, Arugula, and Bottarga

Amanda Hesser uses regular semolina pasta, but I much prefer the egg pasta, such as papardelle, for this dish. The richness of the egg works beautifully with the ricotta and the citrus zest. Bottarga, of course, is purely optional, but now that I’m stuck with it, expect lots of “fun” ways to spruce up meals with it. It does last a very long time, so if you’re looking for an ingredient splurge, it’s very much worth it. Just like anchovies dissolving into food only adding a bit of that salinity, bottarga does the same. If you want to the Chanel clutch errr, bottarga, just sprinkle some flaky sea salt on top and drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Sea salt
1 pound wide egg pasta such as papardelle
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 Meyer Lemons
3 cups baby arugula
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Bottarga

1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Taste the water – it should taste like the ocean. Add the pasta and cook it until al dente. While the pasta cooks, grate a generous handful of parmesan into a large serving bowl. Zest the lemons into the same bowl and add the arugula. Scoop out 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve. Juice 1 of the lemons and reserve.

2. When the pasta is done, drain it and transfer to the bowl with the cheese, lemon, and arugula. Working quickly, sprinkle the lemon juice and some pasta water. Add the ricotta and begin to fold all the ingredients together. Keep folding until the pasta is coated with the sauce, the cheese has melted, and the arugula has wilted a bit. Season with pepper and taste. Add more lemon juice or pepper if desired. If the sauce is too gloppy, add a bit more pasta water and mix again.

3. Divide the pasta across shallow bowls. Drizzle with a hint of olive oil and shave a touch of bottarga on top before serving.

Serves 4

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23 Comments

  • 1

    That is too funny!!!

    And of course, in your head you would have forever been “that girl.”

    But you got a great story out of it!

    April 19, 2012 10:05 am
  • 2

    Love this story! Hilarious! And touching…

    And it sounds delicious.

    XXOOJAX

    April 19, 2012 10:07 am
  • 3
    Alejandra said:

    I love this story! I would have probably done the exact same thing in that situation! lol

    April 19, 2012 10:11 am
  • 4

    amazing! both the story and the look of that pasta. xo

    April 19, 2012 10:33 am
  • 5

    oh my god i love this story! hilarious. i too love cooking for mr. latte and make this pasta often. incidentally, i had the same exact reaction when i met amanda. uncontrollable babbling. so smooth.

    April 19, 2012 11:21 am
  • 6

    OMG, I can just picture this all playing out!! Oh man, that would so happen to me too. Was just at Russ & Daughters a few weeks ago during IACP – Ruth was on our tour and we had a chance to meet the owner too. I can literally visualize your scene! :-)

    In another coincidence, I just started reading Cooking for Mr. Latte this weekend and I’m enjoying it immensely.

    April 19, 2012 12:02 pm
  • 7
    Radish said:

    Kathy – that’s the day I met her. I wasn’t part of IACP stuffs (work keeps me swamped) but that’s the tour she was there for.

    April 19, 2012 12:12 pm
  • 8
    Aaron said:

    This recipe does sound amazing! I guess they probably don’t sell bottarga in smaller quantities, eh? And how lucky to spend an afternoon chatting with Ruth Reichl!

    April 19, 2012 12:44 pm
  • 9

    Love this story — I can so picture it (along with the total internal conflict — I would have done the same thing). Also, you’ve totally piqued my interest about bottarga.

    April 19, 2012 1:43 pm
  • 10
    Margarita said:

    I live in Washington State, but not in the Seattle area, so over here, we are blessed with almost eternal sunshine. Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities when it is sunny! So you are one lucky lady! Also, Cooking for Mr. Latte, I bought that book about 2 years ago and absolutely fell in love with it. I love the story of Amanda and Tad’s courtship, her beautiful recipes, her travel adventures with food, and her witty writing. I’ve never heard of Bottarga, but it must be really good if it’s that pricey! Someday… :) This recipe looks wonderful!

    April 19, 2012 2:21 pm
  • 11
    Cathy said:

    Olga, The pasta looks so delicious. I’ve wondered where to find bottarga myself – have only had it in restaurants. Now, I won’t look so hard. At least not until I win the lottery. In the meantime, regarding being star struck, I feel your pain. I did something very similar with Susan Orlean and I know that I am now considered a stalker in her mind. I still shudder. I am such a geek around people I admire.

    April 19, 2012 3:37 pm
  • 12
    Beth (OMG! Yummy) said:

    Olga – love the story and can just picture the whole scene, not only because I visited Russ and Daughters last year and your skilled retelling but it reminds me of a fellow bloggers story in CA when she met Ruth after a talk she gave at Stanford. She’s a well spoken intelligent person but felt tongue-tied and speechless when she finally made her way up to speak to her. The next day she received a Tweet from Ruth re a mutual connection and was so excited she emailed me immediately with a copy of the tweet knowing I would surely understand the monumental nature of these particular 140 characters :-)

    This recipe w or without the $100 bottarga sounds lovely as does your weekend in Seattle. Great post.

    April 19, 2012 4:11 pm
  • 13
    kickpleat said:

    Hilarious! I love Ruth Reichl so much and I would have been just as awkward and flummoxed too. As for Seattle, it’s a lovely place and it sounds like you did so much. I’m bookmarking a few places I’ve never tried.

    April 19, 2012 8:29 pm
  • 14
    Katie said:

    Oh man. Well, on the bright side at least now you’ve got your Chanel clutch which you may otherwise have not sprung for. I’m sure you’ll enjoy every morsel. This pasta looks simple and so tasty. I may make it this weekend with some home made egg noodles. Yum!

    April 20, 2012 3:44 am
  • 15

    But now she’ll remember you as the girl with the wonderful wallet advice AND amazing taste. Gold stars.

    April 20, 2012 1:05 pm
  • 16
    Emilia said:

    This dish is definitely a winner! Xx

    April 21, 2012 3:12 am
  • 17

    So…was the bottarga worth it? Sometimes a splurge (especially a food-related one) does a body good.

    Love how you met Ruth Reichl, too. And it sounds like your bachelorette party was fabulous.

    April 21, 2012 10:03 am
  • 18
    Radish said:

    Fresh and Foodie – I’m a huge fan of bottarga. I don’t know if I’d pay $100 again, but I do love it and been putting it on everything: toast, pasta, pizza, you name it.

    April 21, 2012 10:28 am
  • 19
    nicole said:

    I’ve been there … only with a steak. I don’t eat meat but wanted to make a nice, grass-fed steak for my new husband … somehow my math was off … they’d already wrapped it up and so I just gulped and likewise handed over the credit card (he loved, for the record). I guess these experiences are our lessons to ourselves, yes? But – how very cool that you met RR!

    April 24, 2012 6:52 pm
  • 20
    Hannah said:

    I love everything you shared here! I’m so happy you enjoyed Seattle and that the sun was shining for you. You hit some terrific restaurants! And I, too, used to pounce on the Sunday paper to read Amanda Hesser’s essays and cooked my way thru “Cooking for Mr Latte”. I’ve made the pasta with Meyer lemons countless times – so good. Yours looks lovely and I’ll be trying it. I’m intrigued by bottarga now, too…what a story! Mazel tov on your upcoming marriage!

    April 24, 2012 7:27 pm
  • 21

    […] shrimp and broccoli, deconstructed banh mi, merguez burgers, Thai beef salads, and lots and lots of pasta […]

    September 28, 2012 1:47 pm
  • 22

    […] a touch of pepper and a mild sweetness which makes it the perfect substitute for arugula in this pasta with Meyer lemon and ricotta. Doesn’t hurt that ricotta is one of my favorite ingredients in any pasta […]

    January 29, 2013 4:42 pm
  • 23
    Joyce Tamara said:

    The same thing happened to me in the ’90’s with Truffle Oil. The owner of the cheese store in my neighborhood “generously” offered to special order it for me. Everything was swell until they rang it up. $60!!!!
    Now, of course, they sell it at WalMart and RiteAid, but back then it was soooooo hard to get!

    March 30, 2013 4:52 am

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