A classic Italian dish of pasta aglio e olio - with garlic and oil - gets a Japanese twist when you add chirimen (dried tiny whitebait) and karasumi (cured, pressed fish roe - the Japanese equivalent to bottarga). Pasta aglio e olio often calls for dried chilli flakes, but I like to add a bit of heat with pickled peperoncini (also spelled pepperoncini), which, because of the vinegar, adds a welcome acidity that balances the oiliness of the sauce.
Start making the sauce first, because it takes a little longer to cook than the pasta.
Thinly slice the garlic. Slice the peperoncini into thin rings.
Pour the olive oil into a wok or skillet, then add the chirimen. Place over a medium flame and heat until sizzling. Cook for about three minutes, adjusting the heat if needed – the oil should bubble gently, not vigorously. Stir in the sliced garlic. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the garlic and chirimen are pale golden, stirring occasionally.
While the chirimen and garlic are cooking, boil the pasta in salted water until al dente. When it’s ready, ladle off about 120ml (½ cup) of the cooking liquid into a heatproof container, then drain the pasta through a colander.
Stir the sliced peperoncini into the garlic-chirimen-oil mixture and cook for about a minute. Add the hot, cooked pasta and about 60ml (¼ cup) of the cooking liquid. Immediately start to mix the ingredients, using chopsticks (or metal tongs) to lift the pasta and stir it, simmering until the water and oil combine to form a thin sauce that lightly coats the strands. If the mixture seems dry, add more pasta water. Taste the ingredients and season very lightly with salt, taking into consideration the saltiness that the karasumi/bottarga will add. Turn off the flame.
Divide the ingredients between two shallow bowls, making sure each portion has an even amount of garlic, chirimen and peperoncini. Peel back the membrane from the karasumi then use a fine-toothed rasp-type grater (such as a Microplane) to grate the dried fish roe over the pasta. Sprinkle with black pepper and serve immediately.