This post appeared today on the site of the very talented The Blissful Adventurer. I was very happy to be a guest blogger for Michael while he is traveling through Italy for a few weeks. Check out his site – it is full of wonderful travel stories and great photos.
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I grew up eating calamari quite often. It was (and still is) a favorite dish of mine so my mother prepared it for me whenever I got to choose that we were having for winner. Interestingly, I did not try deep-fried calamari, which seems to be a very popular way to enjoy this treat, until I was an adult. While I really believe that frying can be a wonderful way to prepare some foods (like chicken) I am not a lover of fried seafood because I think that it masks the delicate flavors of the wonderful frutti de mar.
The Italian style of calamari that I grew up eating is a simple dish but it requires a good foundation in the form of homemade marinara sauce. I have made my own tomato sauce since I was a kid and there are only a few basic rules. Unless it is late summer, I recommend high quality canned tomatoes and a lot of brands fit this description. Any Italian tomatoes from San Marzano and even domestic brands like Muir Glen will do. I don’t use tomato paste, but my mother does, so you can decide for yourself if that adds a good flavor and texture.
My sauce is simple; heat a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil on medium low and add a finely minced garlic clove or two. Once you can smell the garlic, add the tomatoes (don’t let the garlic burn). Sometimes I want a chunky sauce and sometimes the recipe needs a smooth base, so that dictates if I use puree or diced tomatoes. For my calamari dish, I used a one can of each. Because I prefer my sauce to not be sweet, I cook it for a long time. Sometimes I let it cook all day, and always for at least two hours if pressed for time. You want it to gently simmer on medium low heat, and you should stir it every half hour or so. If you plan to cook it low and slow for a long time, you may need to add some water so that it does not get too thick. I added a generous pinch of dried oregano after the sauce reached a simmer.
Calamari from the store comes cleaned or straight from the sea. There is quite a bit of work involved in cleaning squid but it saves quite a bit of money if you have time to do this yourself. Once cleaned, I like to cut the main body into large rings, and leave the tentacles whole. Squid, like many shellfish, needs to be just cooked through or it will become tough and rubbery. I added the cleaned and cut calamari to the pot of sauce and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. This dish is wonderful on its own in a big bowl with a huge chunk of crusty bread. However, my husband cannot have gluten I opted to serve this over GF pasta. I finished the dish with minced Italian flat leaf parsley.
This dish would pair very nicely with a crisp white wine, however, I wanted to explore pairing seafood with red wine. I selected a Cannonau from the island of Sardinia and it was a lovely complement to the calamari. Cannonau is known as Grenache in France and Garnacha in Spain, however, this bottle was much lighter in body than other Grenache based wines that I have had. It has a very unique nose, almost a little musty and earthy, but it was a wonderful wine for a marinara based seafood fish.