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Chefs share ideas for using bottarga

How much spaghetti alla bottarga can you eat? For more ideas on how to use it, I turned to Valentino chef Nico Chessa. He's Sardinian and passionate about bottarga di muggine, which is called buttariga there. The best comes from the lagoons of Cabras on the coast facing Spain, and it actually has its own DOC (delimited area of production, just like a wine).

It turns out the Sardinians use bottarga all the time but never in anything too complicated. "We can go all day," Chessa says, laughing. Spaghetti alla bottarga is the classic, and he's put it on the new southern Italian menu that premieres at Valentino this week. "This is the case where less is more. You can use two tomatoes, olive oil, garlic — end of story." In his recipe, an ounce of bottarga makes pasta for six. Unlike truffles, more is not necessarily better.

Another classic Sardinian dish is celery hearts cut very thin on a mandoline with just a little olive oil and the thinly sliced bottarga on top. "That's it!" he says. "It's the best way to respect the bottarga."

Also traditional is bottarga with artichoke salad, sautéed artichokes or fava beans. Lately, Chessa has discovered he enjoys the cured roe on a boiled potato with olive oil. At home in Italy, he likes to take fresh ricotta and bake it slowly for a couple of hours until it becomes firm, then slice it and serve with bottarga shaved over as an appetizer. That I'm going to have to try.

Tuna bottarga has a bolder, stronger flavor. It's also softer and more moist, and so it's used a little differently. Sicilian-born chef Celestino Drago makes spaghetti aglio e olio with pepperoncino and shaves the bottarga over it. But he also serves it thinly sliced on a piece of toast with a little garlic and olive oil. "Another way," Drago says, "is cannellini beans with a little olive oil on top — and bottarga." Brilliant! Like an amped up tuna and bean salad, substituting bottarga for the canned tuna.

And when Drago makes his spaghetti alla bottarga, he adds toasted bread crumbs for crunch. I sometimes make it that way too. His secret, though, is to grate a little bottarga into the pasta and then, using a truffle slicer, add freshly sliced bottarga on top.

Here's one more take-away idea: yellowfin crudo (raw, as in sashimi-raw) with olive oil, bottarga and a fine dusting of yuzu zest.

—S. Irene Virbila

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