It was a shocking sight. My friend Patty and I were eating out with friends when we were sweet young things, flush with money from our first REAL jobs out of college. We were at an Italian restaurant and ordering up piles of spaghetti (this was the early 80s when it wasn't yet called pasta), when out comes Patty's bowl of Seafood Marinara topped with these weird spiky clusters that looked to me like creepy little splayed hands. What the heck was up with that dish?
That was my first sight of calamari in all its tomato-stewed glory swimming around in my buddy's dinner plate. She tucked into her meal with obvious relish so when she offered up a forkful, I tried a tentative bite. Not bad. Not like the tough little rubber band I expected.
In the eons since, I've eaten a fair bit of calamari when dining out. Our Crispy Crew particularly like Fried Calamari as an appetizer when we go out to a restaurant, and the fried squid cooked up gluten-free in a dedicated GF fryer at KD's Fish Fry in Ballston Spa is our favorite.
I never had tried cooking with squid at home, so when I found a frozen block in my local supermarket I brought it home to play with. There was even a handy recipe for Calamari with Pasta on the back of the package, so that's what used for my foray into squid cookery.
My package of squid was 2.5 lbs. and the recipe only called for half the amount, but I went ahead and thawed the whole thing since it was one big block. It involved a little picking over to remove a few bits of clear, flexible cartilage and even one teeny tiny squid beak. I patted it dry and took care in the cooking to ensure that it didn't get past the tipping point of tenderness and into rubbery terrain. It proved delicious and I was even able to sneak some black olives into the sauce though I live with a pack of olivephobes.
Here's the tasty recipe, slightly adapted from the package:
PASTA WITH CALAMARI
1-1/2 lbs. squid tubes and tentacles, cleaned and patted dry
1-1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (I used a can of diced tomatoes)
8 basil leaves, slivered (I used frozen garden basil)
1 Tbsp. Italian parsley, minced
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped black olives
1 lb. pasta
Cut squid tubes into rings about 1/4 inch thick. Leave tentacles alone to blossom into spiky little "hands" during the cooking.
Heat 1 Tbsp. of olive oil in large saucepan. Add garlic and saute, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook for another minute, stirring. Add tomatoes, basil, parsley, and ground red pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add olives. Stir, lower heat and let simmer over low heat while you cook up the squid.
In a separate saucepan, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Add squid pieces and cook over medium heat for 2-4 minutes, stirring all the while and checking to see that the squid remains tender. DO NOT OVERCOOK! When done, add squid to tomato sauce and cook another minute or two to mingle flavors.
Cook up your pasta and while still warm, pour sauce over the top and toss with the sauce.
Makes 4-6 servings.
Sending a big thank you to my friend Patty for introducing me to the pleasures of calamari and a bowl of this deliciously squiddy pasta over to Presto Pasta Nights, the weekly roundup of all things noodly started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. This week's edition, Number 161, is being hosted by Thyme for Cooking, a lovely French food blog and the roundup of delicious pastas will be featured after the April 30 deadline.