Uni Butter Sauce with Pasta
One summer a ways back, I worked for the winemakers Marilyn Schulze and Giordano Venturi in Cowichan Bay on the east coast of Vancouver Island, while I was studying viticulture (read: doing a lot of hand pruning and training of grapevines, as well as knocking down live wasp nests and getting stung in the eye!). Giordano would hand-make pasta to serve with his gorgeous ripe pinot noirs. I commented in my youthfulness, “I never make pasta. It’s too much time and work.” He just stared blankly at me, and I understood that I was missing the point. After that, I started learning to make pasta and now would attest that it actually doesn’t take that long. Think about it: If you make handmade pasta, all you really need is butter and lemon juice to make it delicious, so you save time on that, and it is quite the showstopper at dinner.
¼ cup (60 mL) finely diced onion
1 tsp (5 mL) chili flakes (or more to your spice level)
4 Tbsp (60 mL) butter
4 cups (500 mL) chopped spinach
1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced cauliflower
½ cup (60 mL) uni butter (recipe below)
Fresh pasta (4 servings)
3 chopped tomatillos
1 lime, juiced and zested
½ cup (125 mL) grated pecorino cheese, for sprinkling (optional)
- Bring a pot of water to boil over high heat and salt it until it tastes like the sea.
- Meanwhile, in a saucepan, cook the onions and chili flakes in the butter on medium heat for 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low, add the spinach, cauliflower, uni butter, and a pinch of salt and cook for 1 minute, just to soften the vegetables. Turn off the heat.
- Drop the pasta into the boiling water, stir to loosen the pasta up, and boil for 1–2 minutes. Taste a piece to see if it’s done. When it’s done, drain the pasta, but reserve ½ cup (125 mL) of the cooking water. Add the lime juice and zest to the saucepan and then use the pasta water to thin the uni butter sauce if necessary. Taste, then add more plain butter or pasta water if you want to mellow the flavor. Toss the pasta in the sauce. Serve topped with pecorino, tomatillos, and more chili flakes if you wish.
Makes 1 1/2 cups (375 mL)
½ cup (125 mL) sea urchin roe (uni), about 2 live urchins
1 lb (454 g) butter, softened
- Butchering the urchin might make some people squeamish, but I think it’s an important step in learning about the food we choose to eat. North America as a culture is so removed from the fact that seafood indeed has to be killed to be eaten, that moments like these encourage you to make a fully informed choice about being a carnivore. Crack open the live sea urchin by cutting in a circle around the mouth, insert two spoons and lever the shell so that it splits in two. Carefully scrape any darker thin skin or seaweed debris out of the shell, taking care not to damage the roe. Once the debris is cleared away, scoop the brightly colored roe from the shell and place it in a bowl, making sure there are no broken spines in the bowl. Put the uni in a blender and mix on high speed with the room temperature butter until smooth. Put the uni butter into an airtight plastic container and refrigerate immediately to set it. Spread it on toast to serve with chowder or use as a simple sauce for cooked pasta.
NOTE: Uni is Japanese for urchin roe.
NOTE: If you harvest live urchin, eat a few roe raw for the sheer pleasure of it. If they are very rich, squeeze some lime on them. The roe will come in a gorgeous range of colors, from lemon yellow to reddish, and sizes depending on their age. I find about one in ten uni fresh from the sea have a slight taste of copper, but most are creamy and delicious, especially smaller urchin.
Recipe by Robin Kort from The Coastal Forager’s Cookbook: Feasting Wild in the Pacific Northwest, copyright © 2023 by Robin Kort.