Spaghetti ai ricci di mare

Sea urchin is a prickly subject around our house. Ha, get it? Prickly??? Anyway, I could eat it several nights a week, my family not so much.

Spaghetti ai ricci di mare

For most folks, sea urchin exists in one context — uni, as served in sushi bars. And people generally either love it or hate it. The first time I had it, in my 20s, it was at a $14.95 all-you-can-eat sushi joint. Looking back, I imagine this particular urchin must’ve been sitting on or under the counter for quite some time. My friend, Gary, and I — in a fit of boldness inspired by saké bombs — split an order. Gingerly we put it in our mouths, then each watched the other’s face flush white as he grabbed desperately for his beer. It was, by a measure I hadn’t experienced before, not good.

It would be a decade before I tried it again. This time, I ordered it at my favorite pricey sushi restaurant. The flavors of rotting, sun-baked tidepool that had filled my mouth that first fateful day were this time subtle, briny and nutty. I instantly got it — and was hooked. A pricey habit, I’ll admit — although I’ve found a source where I can get a great deal on urchin if I’m doing it myself.

And what exactly do I do with it? Besides sushi, my favorite preparation is spaghetti ai ricci di mare — spaghetti with sea urchin, or more precisely, spaghetti with “sea hedgehog”. Coastal Italians, like the Japanese it turns out, eat a lot of sea urchin. We’re fortunate in California to have abundant and very good sea urchin — indeed, most of it gets exported to Japan to support their habit.

This pasta is so delicious that my wife will eat sea urchin without complaining — something she would never do at the sushi bar. (“It’s still not my favorite,” she’ll offer up, just by way of clarification.) Especially with the crispy garlic on top, which would make dirt taste good. Here I spend all this time writing this post, and I bet not a single one of you will make this. But here it goes anyway… enjoy:

*   *   *

Spaghetti ai ricci di mare
serves two

1/2 lb. spaghetti
4 oz. fresh sea urchin
extra virgin olive oil
fresh lemon
2 large cloves garlic
freshly grated parmesan
crushed red pepper
flaky sea salt

Beforehand: heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in your smallest saucepan. Peel the garlic, slice thinly, and place in saucepan with olive oil. Heat over medium until garlic begins to sizzle, turn stove to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic becomes golden and begins to brown (about 10 minutes on my stove). Drain on paper towel.

Cook your spaghetti to al dente in a large pot of salted water and drain. In the cooking pot, add 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and 2/3 of the sea urchin, reserving the rest for garnish. Mash the sea urchin up in the olive oil, whipping lightly, until a creamy orange sauce is formed. Return hot spaghetti to pan and toss to integrate sauce.

Plate spaghetti: With tongs, divide between two plates. Grate a little lemon rind over the top of each, then put a few pieces of sea urchin on top. Squeeze a little lemon juice over each plate, drizzle with a little additional olive oil. Then sprinkle with crushed red pepper, sea salt and freshly grated parmesan. Lastly, toss some crispy garlic on top and serve.

20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 00:57:38



  2. Par
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 01:44:20

    Oooh Oooh Uniii Oooh and I’ll make that toooo! Or you can and I’ll come eat it!

    I remember the first time I had live uni fresh from the shell. ( I think it was you ordered that too.)

    Man… It was like all the freshness of the ocean hitting my tongue at once.


  3. paul
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 12:32:23

    If memory serves, you introduced me to the little urchins at Brothers, oh so many years ago. If you had a nickel for every person you put on to that gateway seafood, I’ll bet you would have two big bulging pockets full of nickels. I’m still the only one in my crew that eats ’em…Thanks Seany Urchinseed


  4. monica
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 16:46:47

    My favorite as well…I will definitely make it! I also love it in a seafood soup.


  5. g
    Apr 05, 2011 @ 19:43:37

    Soooooo……how/where to get it? I wouldn’t know where, and how does it come – in the little round shells? I’m not even sure what it looks like other than in sushi.


    • scolgin
      Apr 05, 2011 @ 19:47:49

      At any of the Japanese markets in West L.A. — Nijiya on Sawtelle, Mirukan on Pico, Mitsuwa on Venice and Centinela. Sometimes they have a great deal on it at the Safe & Save Japanese Market on Sawtelle. Let me know and if you want some, I can pick it up for you when I’m down that way. It comes already cleaned and ready to eat in little plastic containers.


  6. jewel
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 18:07:55

    Will be making this tonight!


  7. jewel
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 23:50:43

    Project Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare complete, not sure it turned out exactly as intended but it was very good. Having read the taste and texture described as ‘mermaid spit’ it was a lovely surprise. I’m no longer a sea urchin virgin! 🙂 Thank you for the recipe!


    • scolgin
      Nov 14, 2013 @ 23:57:01

      Happy to have played such a prominent role in the loss of your virginity! (Urchin-wise, of course!) The first time I had it at a (bad) sushi bar, it was the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. It took me years to ever try it again. And then when I had it at a good sushi bar, it was one of the best things I’d ever put in my mouth! I find the texture creamy, not at all snot-like. When I buy it, I have to hide it from myself or I’ll eat it all before I get to the intended use! Glad you enjoyed it. And kudos to you for having secured some all the way in your small OK town!


  8. jewel
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 20:05:16

    Surprisingly, my little golden friends made it from California to Oklahoma (by way of Tennessee?) in pristine condition. After a wary sniff for the aroma of rotting tidepool, 😉 I popped a fat one in my mouth. Then another, and so on…with half the box gone by the time I made the sauce. Ok, the truth is I had a uni orgy and left just enough to say the spaghetti had ricci di mare. Somewhere. Sigh. Wishing you a great day from rattlesnake country!


    • scolgin
      Nov 15, 2013 @ 22:15:42

      “Rattlesnake country”!?? What do you Okies know about rattlesnakes!?? 😉 I can’t throw an acorn in the air around here without hitting a rattlesnake! Did you read my rattlesnake food post!??:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the fat plump orange roe by itself, as well. It’s even better that way than in the ricci. I gathered some urchins from the rocks in Mexico recently and scooped the uni right out of the shell, That, my friend, was an orgy.


  9. jewel
    Nov 16, 2013 @ 04:43:23

    I did read the rattlesnake post, was laughing my butt off! We, my friend, have the dubious distinction of hosting the World’s Oldest Rattlesnake Hunt! Complete with a butcher shop, (after milking the venom), a queen contest, the ‘den of death’, and of course fried rattlesnake. Did I mention PETA protests? How’s that for a claim to fame?! The first weekend in May each year the vendors, carnival, and folks with a death wish congregate to catch rattlesnakes. The locals start out a month or so ahead, heading for their secret honey-holes in the gypsum hills in search of the big one! Or just lots of them… Helpful hint – should you venture this way around then, if anyone says ‘hop up here and check this out!’ pointing at a pickup bed do ask if the snakes are IN something other than the pickup. 🙂 I’m so envious, scooping up the urchins yourself – in Mexico. And of people who grow their own citrus, avocados, guavas, etc. in their BACK YARDS for goodness sake! That would be glorious…


  10. jewel
    Nov 22, 2013 @ 03:02:11

    Yes, that would be it! Guess I should take a look at it as well, eh?


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