Pasta con polpa di ricci (Pasta with sea urchin roe or “uni” if you like)

I would have never thought to incorporate sea urchin roe, the famous Japanese sushi bar ingredient — a.k.a. uni, into Italian food. But there we were in Otranto in the Puglia region of Italy at the restaurant, L’altro Baffo, and there it was on the menu — Pasta with uni!!

This is a fairly straight forward dish to make. The key if to find the freshest possible sea urchin roe. Sea urchin roe is sold in little wooden trays. And while uni imported from Japan can be found, there are great US waters harvested products. The best of all is the uni from Santa Barbara, CA. Here’s a great article (albeit from 2004) from the LA Times about California uni.

Go to your local Asian grocery store and find your uni. Checks the dates on the packages as you hunt for the freshest one. In markets in the Los Angeles area, one tray will run about $5-$7.

I used bucatini in this recipe but you could use any type of long strand pasta you like. This recipe serves 2 people and scales up easily.

Ingredients and Directions:

  • One tray of fresh sea urchin roe – a.k.a. uni
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 o 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • One half a 28 ounce can of San Marzano plum or crushed tomatoes
  • Chopped parsley – about 1/8 cup or two tablespoons
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound of long strand pasta – e.g., spaghetti, linguine, bucatini
  1. In a saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and saute for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Add the tomatoes. Cook for 5-10 minutes. While cooking, use the back of a wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes (if using plum tomatoes). Also add the chopped parsley.
  2. Add about 2/3rds of the tray of uni into the sauce – reserving the remainder for garnish. Using a wooden spoon, stir the uni into the sauce. The uni will not completely dissolve. Turn off the heat as you really don’t want to cook the uni. Taste the sauce and season as needed with salt and pepper.
  3. While cooking the sauce, cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 1 minute less than the package directions. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Stir the pasta with the sauce for about 30 seconds to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce.
  4. Place the pasta on serving plates and garnish with the remaining uni as shown in the photo. Serve immediately. DO NOT serve with cheese. It would overpower the subtle uni taste.

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