Friday, January 30, 2009

The Calamari Paradox



There's nothing more disappointing then ordering calamari in a restaurant and waiting in lip-smacking anticipation as the waiter plops down the platter, only to discover it's been overcooked. It can be like eating strips of truck tires and it's happened to me time and again, in the cheap dives and the high end, white-tablecloth shrouded snobberies. Calamari's tricky. Should you be brave enough to attempt your own golden fried version, check out my recipe here. But I have an even better idea - why not make it fool-proof, add more deep complexity, and celebrate the best briney goodness of the squid.

I've always heard that there are two ways to cook squid, lightning fast or tortoise-slow. I don't think I ever believed that calamari that braised for an hour or more could possibly be edible. So many memories of crisp-fried rubber came back to haunt me. But low and behold, when calamari simmers away, it develops such a silky tenderness, and such rich flavors that I'm not sure I can ever look at a plate of the fried stuff again.

So I challenge you. Make this delicious squid. Serve it over pasta as I have, or with some crusty bread, and then come back and tell me what you think. It will change your world!

Spaghetti with Slow-Cooked Calamari Marinara


2 Tbsp olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, smashed open
14.5 oz fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
1 lb. calamari, cut into rings (You can use tentacles, but I didn't)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp freshly ground coarse black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 Tbsp pesto
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 lb. spaghetti, cooked to al dente in salted water

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook gently without browning until fragrant. Add tomatoes, wine, calamari, tomato paste and seasonings. Bring to a simmer. Simmer over medium-low heat (uncovered) for about an hour. The calamari should be meltingly tender when it's done and the sauce should have reduced and become thicker.

When the pasta is just about cooked, add the pesto, cheese and parsley to the calamari. Then use a spaghetti hook to transfer the pasta into the pot with the calamari. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce so that it absorbs some of the flavors.

Serve steaming hot with an extra flourish of chopped parsley.

4 comments:

PeterD said...

There is a serious error in this recipe - the ratio of squid to pasta. NOT ENOUGH SQUID!!! :) Seriously though, thanks for the great informative post and recipe! I'll be making this soon!

Heather said...

mmm. i love calamari. looks fabulous!

Maya said...

I'm trying this tonight, thanks for the inspiration!

Jammit said...

You can cook calamari for a few minutes, or for an hour (but nowhere in between!!), and in both cases, it will come out plump and tender. So, what's the difference? When you cook it "low and slow", the sauce takes on a wonderful, amazing flavor that it just can't when you use the fast method. FYI, this long simmer method is very popular amongst Italians, especially on Christmas Eve. Try it, you'll love it!! Fuggedaboutit!!!

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