Sardegna, sea and bottarga

July 14, 2006


Long time no see…
Well, I was baking under the Sardinian sun and I was too busy putting high-filtering creams on Emily’s back, or sampling food at the local fish restaurant on the beach to write anything.

Back to Rome now, and to my job. But I want to recall those days by the beautiful sea of Sardegna’s west coast with the recipe of the pasta dish we ate every single evening!

Spaghetti con arselle e bottarga

What you need for two people (a romantic dinner, why not? perhaps a little aphrodisiac…):

  • 200 grams of spaghetti
  • 500-600 grams of arselle (Venerupis Decussata, a kind of clams, or, in a few english translations: grooved carpet shell, purr, butter fish). Normal clams will do…
  • A liberal quantity of Bottarga. This is dried mullet roe, typical produce of the west coast of Sardegna. It is oh so good and quite expensive, so as to be called the caviar of Sardegna… You should choose the most dried ones, as you have to grate it on top of the spaghetti. There are kinds that are a little softer, suitable to be cut in very thin slices that go as hors d’oeuvre, topped with a drop of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • one clove of garlic
  • a certain quantity of red hot chilli peppers, according to your taste
  • parsley
  • extra-virgin olive oil of the best quality you can get
  • coarse salt

Wash the clams under running water. They must be closed (i.e. alive): those already open or broken are dead – throw them away (if they are too many, go and complain with the fishmonger, ask your money back, etc.). Then, to purge them form sand, leave them in salted water (a spoon of coarse salt per litre) for 30-45 minutes. Clean them again under running water.


Put the clams in a saucepan with nothing else (no oil, no water, nothing), put the lid on and cook on a medium flame the time necessary for the clams to clearly open the shell, not longer else they get too dry. Take the open clams away, filter the water they have left in the pan and keep it.

Cover the bottom of a frying pan with the oil, add the peppers and the garlic cut in pieces (so that you can remove it later). Cook until the garlic becomes golden: at this point grate a liberal quantity of bottarga on top of the oil, let stir-fry for a few seconds and add the filtered clam water.

Keep everything on a medium flame, stir the clam water while it thickens a little bit. Not to much, as you have to finish the cooking of spaghetti in the resulting sauce.
When the sauce is at the right point add the clams and keep on the fire just the time necessary to season them.
No salt is necessary.
Turn the fire off, grate some more bottarga, add the chopped parsley and mix everything

Meanwhile bring abundant water to boil: when it does add salt and the spaghetti. Stir every now and then. When the spaghetti are very “al dente” (if you’re Italian you know what I mean, otherwise they must be hard under your teeth but not crunchy) strain them and add them to the sauce with the clams, which you have brought to boil on a high flame.
Stir the spaghetti in the sauce until “al dente”, turn the fire off, serve in large plates with a little tuft of parsley as decoration and top again with as much grated bottarga as you like.

Don’t quarrel on who has more spaghetti or, worse, on who has more clams… It is not romantic!

Suggested white wine: Vermentino di Sardegna “Is Argiolas”, Argiolas Winemakers
Serve chilled, and drink moderately, it makes 14°!


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