bucatini with oven-dried tomatoes and bottarga

The universe has been sort of funny this week. I’m not sure what exactly it’s trying to tell me, but I feel as though it’s saying something, or at least hinting around. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and see what other surprises it has in store.

At the moment there are more important matters at hand. Like tomatoes. It’s finally that time. Hot days in the Bay = tomatoes galore. The tomatoes around here are exploding right now; even my crazy little Sweet 100’s are out of control. I’m ecstatic.

About this time last year, I bought myself a 20 pound flat of Early Girls, which was the best decision ever. I loved being able to crack a jar of the Girls open in the middle of winter. I enjoyed those tomatoes so much that I decided I would buy a flat every year going forward.

This year I decided to go with the San Marzanos since they’re supposed to be the best for sauce making. As it turns out, they’re also very good for drying. If you find yourself with a surplus of tomatoes, I highly recommend oven-drying. Oven-dried tomatoes are the bomb. They’re the easiest thing ever, and if you have a convection oven, it’s a relatively quick process. And the smell of drying tomatoes is pretty amazing – it’s like pure tomato essence locked inside your oven. I couldn’t wait to eat them.

I didn’t wait long. I ate a few on toast, which was pretty spectacular. And then the rest went into a sauce. This recipe originally caught my attention because it was so simple and called for just a handful of ingredients. It also called for bottarga.

Bottarga is the dried, cured roe of the grey mullet or tuna. It is found on several restaurant menus in these parts, but it’s only available in certain specialty stores and it can get a little pricey. I was on a mission, so I searched the net, made a few calls, did some comparative pricing. And then I headed to the Ferry Building to seal the deal. Thank you, Boulettes Larder, for opening your already closed doors and breaking me off a piece of this gold from the ocean.

Freshly grated bottarga transforms a simple pasta dish into something special. It lends a saltiness and complexity that can’t be achieved with salt. It offsets the sweetness of the sundried tomato sauce really nicely. If you can find bottarga and are not deterred by the cost, it’s a great treat for yourself and those you are sharing with.

bucatini with oven-dried tomatoes and bottarga

adapted from A-16 by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren

serves 4- 6

kosher salt

extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife

1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes

2 cups oven-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped (see recipe below)

12 ounces bucatini

1-ounce piece bottarga for grating (or substitute fresh parmigiano reggiano)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and chile flakes and sweat, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until the garlic has softened. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes have plumped up. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed, keeping in mind that the tomatoes are seasoned and the bottarga is salty.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 1 minute less than specified on the package. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water, and return the pasta to the large pot over medium heat. Add the sauce to the pasta along with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and toss well, adding some of the reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce. If the sauce is too loose, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook down the sauce with the pasta. It should be loose enough to barely pool at the bottom of the pot, but not too watery. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.

Serve the pasta in a warmed large bowl, family style. Grate the bottarga over the top to finish and serve immediately.

oven-dried tomatoes

1-1/2 pounds kosher salt

15 san marzano tomatoes

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 

Preheat oven to 200°F.

Spread the salt on a 13×18-inch rimmed baking sheet, creating a 1/2-inch thick bed of salt. Core the tomatoes and halve them lengthwise. Arrange the halves, skin side down, in rows on the bed of salt. Bake for 6 hours, or until the tomatoes are dried and look like sun-dried tomatoes. (if you have a convection oven, turn the fan on; the tomatoes should be dry in about 3 hours.)

Remove the tomatoes from the salt (the salt can be reused for another batch), and pack them into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour in olive oil, cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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