Early in my cooking “career,” I found myself wanting to cook everything. Every new cookbook was an inspiration to me.
I often laugh when I think back to some of my endeavors: An appetizer made out of Gouda cheese and green olives molded into the shape of a pineapple; hundreds of tiny, bright green shamrock cookies for St. Patrick’s Day; homemade ketchup (not as good as Heinz); homemade apple butter (I scorched and ruined the pan); zucchini pickles (no one ate them); and my own mint jelly (enough to last for countless roast lamb Easter dinners.)
I once spent three days roasting bones and making a demi-glace for a company roast veal dinner. Nothing was too hard. I loved it! And, of course, I tried my hand at cooking all manner of seafood: scrubbing mussels, peeling shrimp, poaching salmon, picking through crab for crab cakes, scalloped oysters and all manner of chowders and stews.
My father, who grew up in a little fishing village in Italy along the Adriatic coast, adored calamari, a type of squid from the octopus family. His little hometown, Vieste, is in the region of Apulia on the Bari peninsula. After my father was gone, I learned that the culinary specialty of this area is stuffed calamari and then understood why he spoke so often of this dish. Most often, the calamari is filled with breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and Parmesan cheese and is baked or grilled. I never had a chance to make it for him.
My first encounter with preparing calamari was not a pleasant one. At the time, the only calamari I could find at the fish stand was not cleaned, which meant removing the head and “innards” as well as peeling off a thin, purplish membrane that covers the body. But today, calamari can be found headless and cleaned and sold with their tentacles only if you want them.
Most of us are familiar with fried calamari, a popular appetizer served at bars, as well as upscale restaurants. My husband and I enjoy the calamari at several Harrisburg dining spots:
- Home 231, which serves them with a chili remoulade sauce
- Sammy’s, which pairs them with an unusual ginger dipping sauce
- Alvaro, the little Italian bakery turned weekend bistro where they come with owner Lena’s hearty tomato sauce
- Note Bistro and Wine Bar, which takes fried calamari to a whole new level by serving them with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette and roasted poblano crème fraiche
But there are other ways to prepare and serve this well-known little squid, and one of them is in a pasta sauce that is easily made at home. With cleaned calamari readily available now (either fresh or frozen), pasta with calamari is a simple dish to prepare and a nice change from pasta with clams, shrimp or mussels.
Pasta with Calamari
- ½ pound high quality durum wheat spaghetti
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- A pinch of dried red pepper flakes (more if you like a spicier dish)
- 1 (14½ ounce) can crushed tomatoes (or whole plum tomatoes crushed by hand)
- A pinch of salt
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 pound of cleaned calamari, cut into ½ inch rings (I skip the tentacles but if you like them, toss them into the sauce as well)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- In a large skillet, combine olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook on medium for about 3 minutes, stirring gently (don’t let the garlic burn).
- Add tomatoes, salt and wine. Reduce heat and simmer for 4 minutes.
- Bring to a boil and then add calamari and lemon juice.
- Add butter and parsley and cook for about 10 minutes. (Taste the calamari to make sure it is tender but do not overcook. Calamari can turn rubbery very easily.)
- Drain the cooked pasta and add it to the skillet. Toss together for about 2 minutes so the pasta absorbs a little of the sauce and the flavors blend together.)
- Sprinkle the pasta with the chopped parsley.
- Serve right from the skillet or a warmed serving bowl.
Pasta with calamari is wonderful paired with an arugula salad, some warmed olive bread and a cold, crisp Italian white wine.
This is such a basic recipe that you can also substitute shrimp or scallops for the calamari or even combine several together. I know my father would have loved it.