Sea urchin is an acquired taste. But once acquired it haunts you. For me, there is nothing else I can eat that evokes the sea as strongly as it does. Mussels are close. Oysters are closer. But sea urchin is briny and funky in a way that, as soon as the first bite hits, I can recall what the summer wind of the ocean felt like.
I first tasted Paolo Licata’s sugo di ricci—sea hedgehog sauce, the Italian word for sea urchins—in Sicily a decade ago. When we got the first shipment of a few cases this fall it was just as I’d remembered: a sweet, delicious Sicilian classic tomato sauce, spiked with shrimp and anchovies, with a deep current of urchin flavor running throughout. It’s a smooth sauce, homogenous, no chunks of fish, and I adore it on a plate of just-cooked Rustichella bucatini with nothing else except a glass of cold white wine nearby.
The sauce’s flavor is strong enough that a little goes a long way, which makes the expense of such a luxury easier to bear. A few spoonfuls per person is enough, so a jar can easily serve 8.