This spaghetti con vongole e bottarga recipe hails from Teulada on the Italian island of Sardinia, where I learnt to make the dish from locals – by sampling spaghetti con vongole e bottarga at Teulada’s best restaurants, and getting tips from the experts and our hosts. I then made the dish for them a couple of nights later for a dinner party in our little casa.
After we checked into colourful Casa Teulada, our latest home away from home in the village of Teulada, Sardinia, our host Antonio showed us around the charming apartment that would be our home for the week.
In addition to the many thoughtful little extras he and his wife, Christina, provide for their guests, Antonio left us a Sardinian cookbook and a packet of powder that looked a little like turmeric, telling me that, as I liked to cook, this was the local specialty.
Well, I love a challenge! It turned out that it wasn’t ground turmeric at all, and nor was it a spice powder. It was bottarga – salted, pressed, dried, and ground grey mullet roe. It might not sound that appetising, but for seafood lovers its aroma is amazing and it has a very moreish quality.
I knew I had tasted it somewhere before. And then, after some research, I realised I had ordered it a few years ago in Sicily with some pasta. Due to my literal translation of the dish, I remembered I had been expecting salmon-like roe not bottarga.
The fact that I had tried bottarga in Sicily first is revealing. It is now generally accepted that the technique to make the product was introduced to Sicily by the Arabs, having first been perfected by the Phoenicians.
The Greeks, however, will dispute this. Maybe I should turn the comments off for this spaghetti con vongole e bottarga recipe post…
Spaghetti con Vongole e Bottarga Recipe Made in Teulada on the Island of Sardinia, Italy
The dried roe that is bottarga is a kind of a dirty orange-coloured slab, which is also served cut into pieces with tomatoes and lemon juice. When it’s used for a pasta and dishes such as spaghetti con vongole e bottarga, the bottarga is generally ground to a potent powder.
On our first night in Sardinia, I tried the local bottarga for the first time on the island in one of the quintessential local dishes, spaghetti con vongole e bottarga recipe, at Teulada’s best restaurant, La Grotta Azzurra. Wow!
The simplicity of the dish, the perfectly cooked pasta, the fresh vongole (clams), and just the right amount of bottarga made spaghetti with clams and bottarga one of our new favourite pasta dishes.
I had virtually inhaled the dish before the others had even wrapped their first mouthful of spaghetti around their forks. I knew I had to make my own version of spaghetti con vongole e bottarga.
The classic, simple, fisherman’s version of spaghetti with clams and bottarga consists of spaghetti, olive oil (home-pressed, of course!) and a little chilli. The bottarga is left in a bowl on the table, so each person can vary the amount they sprinkle on their plate depending on individual taste.
Other recipes for spaghetti con vongole e bottarga I read had all kinds of complications that to me added nothing to the dish, so I decided to keep it simple. Put the spaghetti on. Olive oil in a medium-hot pan with some slightly crushed garlic, cooked until lightly coloured, then discarded.
A tablespoon of bottarga added to the pan with some butter, some chopped parsley, and a tiny touch of peperoncino, Italian chilli flakes. Add the diced flesh of a couple of ripe tomatoes. Mix in the cooked pasta. Done.
That night we ate the dish again at another local restaurant Antonio had recommended, Sebera. It was just as good as the first night, but I have to confess I think that vongole is not really necessary to have a great spaghetti con bottarga.
Nor do I think that bottarga and vongole are a perfect match (although Lara thinks it’s sublime). I can only say this now because I’ve just left the island. Every guy there carries his own switch-blade!
A few nights later our neighbours came over to cook some barbecue fish for dinner, and Antonio, Christina and their daughter Sarah joined us, so I decided to test out my spaghetti con vongole e bottarga on a local audience.
Fortunately, the locals enjoyed it. Lara absolutely loves it and thinks it’s now one of our best pasta recipes. Here’s my version of a classic spaghetti con vongole e bottarga recipe – locally-approved if the empty plates on the table are any indication.
Spaghetti con Vongole e Bottarga Recipe
- 500 g 1lb spaghetti (No.5)
- 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small knob of butter
- 1 kg 2.2lb small clams (vongole)
- 50 g 1.75oz packet of bottarga di muggine macinata (you may not use it all)
- 1 cup dry white wine for the pot - 1 glass extra for the chef
- 4 cloves of garlic - crushed slightly
- Good pinch of peperoncino - or dried red chilli, chopped into tiny pieces
- Bunch of fresh parsley - finely chopped
- In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta as per the timing listed with the instructions. It’s usually around 8 minutes for this size spaghetti.
- Back away from the olive oil bottle! Don’t waste good olive oil by putting it in with the pasta. It’s the rolling boil that stops it sticking together; adding oil to stop pasta sticking is a myth. Maybe an olive oil producer came up with that one…anyway back to the recipe.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the garlic. Add the peperoncino and a handful of the chopped parsley.
- Take out the garlic and add the wine, clams, and a tablespoon of bottarga. Put the heat on high and cover the pan.
- Sip your wine. Wait about 4–5 minutes for the clams to cook.
- Discard any clams that don’t look like opening. Some say this is a myth. If some of these non-believers are at your table for dinner and are being disagreeable about it, give them those unopened clams to eat while you finish the dish.
- Drain the pasta. Toss with the clams and sauce. Add another tablespoon of bottarga.
- Serve the pasta family-style or individually, it’s up to you, but make sure there’s a little dish of bottarga on the table and a spoon for sprinkling it over the pasta. Because your guests will want more.
Please do let us know if you make our spaghetti con vongole e bottarga recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.