Sea Urchin. AKA Uni. The gonads of this spiny echinoderm have been a delicacy in Japan and parts of the Mediterranean for years. In the past decade, however, uni has become such a trendy culinary product that it’s now difficult and expensive to track down a good source. I prefer Santa Barbara uni, which tends to be sweeter and creamier than those from Japan or Maine, and my go-to for many years was Catalina Offshore Products in San Diego. They truly are one of the best in the business. Unfortunately, due to soaring popularity, they are perpetually sold out of their famous “gold” quality uni.
My wife and I first fell for sea urchin around 2008, and our favorite place to eat it was at the now-shuttered sushi restaurant Soto. Over the years, I’ve attempted several uni recipes at home, and even though they are often delicious, my wife lovingly dismisses them as “a waste of good uni.” To her, any preparation that doesn’t feature the uni front-and-center is a bad one. However, I think this pasta dish from Battersby has changed her mind.
Battersby, a highly regarded restaurant, is in Brooklyn, yet somehow my wife and I have never been. I have made several dishes from their cookbook, though, and one of my favorites is their sea urchin pasta. Because high-quality uni is now so expensive and hard to find, I don’t make this dish often. However, I recently acquired two new cookbooks (Estella and A Very Serious Cookbook) that have multiple recipes featuring sea urchin (can you say “trendy”?). This meant I could buy one tray of uni from the Lobster Place and stretch the cost out over several dishes. How could I resist? It was time for a bona fide uni fest, featuring four sea urchin dishes, including the Battersby pasta.
I’m the first to sing the praises of freshly made pasta, but some dishes, like this one, require dried. And while I prefer to make all components of any given recipe myself, there’s no way I can make dried pasta as good as the pros in Southern Italy. Therefore, I ordered “spaghetti faella” a wonderful, thick and textural noodle imported by Gustiamo — a fantastic importer of unique and delicious Italian products.
Uni isn’t the only trendy ingredient called for in this dish, as there is also Calabrian chile involved. I first heard of these flavorful, spicy cured peppers at a Degustibus class featuring acclaimed Lilia chef Missi Robbins. In the couple years since, they’ve popped up on menus all around town. Despite their popularity, they’re still somewhat tricky to find, and I usually pick mine up from Buon Italia or Eataly. With all the ingredients in hand, it was on to execution.
Really, the hard part of this recipe is procuring all of the necessary ingredients. Then it’s really just a matter of making seasoned bread crumbs, sauteing garlic and chiles, boiling some spaghetti, and throwing it all together with uni. Simple right? Once plated, I topped each portion with more uni and sprinkled some pimenton espelette on top. I was particularly excited to use the espelette because I brought it back from a recent trip to basque country, and I want to go through it become it loses its pungency. It added another level of spice to compliment the more robust chile.
This is really a fantastic dish. People tend to either love or hate uni, but even those who don’t like it have enjoyed this pasta. It really doesn’t require all that much effort, and lends a sense of decadence to any meal.