Lying on the shores of the Mediterranean coastline, extending from the Northern African regions to the toe-end of Italy, calamari frites will be your guilty pleasure. Coated in thick batter, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, no beach getaway would be complete without lemon drizzled fried calamari. Just like me, most of our introduction to this cephalopod, has been in its fried or grilled form, mostly as an antipasto, tapas or appetizer. However, the world’s cuisine uses this form of seafood in various different ways.
Known as squid generally on its own, but when used in Mediterranean recipes, the English language has incorporated the term calamari (plural for calamaro in Italian) to describe its seafood content. Eaten on it’s own, either fried or grilled, calamari has found its own niche among seafood lovers. The Spanish, usually cook the calamari in its own ink to make a seafood stew known as “Chipirones en su tinta”, the Koreans serve it fresh, soon after it has been killed with chilli sauce, while in Malta, the squid tubes are stuffed with rice, capers, breadcrumbs and garlic before stewing it in red wine. These ways of cooking squid are just a drop in the vast ocean, hence how you make the recipe your own is a challenge.
I found squid tubes in the frozen section of a supermarket. Having eaten them at various junctures of my life, I was yet to try my hand at creating a recipe with them. It was a challenge to relish and my opportunity to surprise myself by cooking calamari at home. After researching various cooking methods, the one thing I learn’t was to be very careful while sauteing the calamari, if it is overcooked, it will just end up rubbery, chewy and hard to eat. Staying away from just simply frying the calamari, I decided to give it an Italian and Mediterranean fusion touch; garlic, olive oil, chillies, red wine and tomatoes.
- 500g frozen calamari
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 1 can tomato puree
- 1 cup red wine (preferably dry)
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Handful dry red chillies, torn
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 150g linguine
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika powder
- 2 tsp garlic paste
- Defrost the calamari tubes and slice them into 1 inch thick discs
- In a bowl, add the sliced calamari with a pinch of salt, black pepper, juice of 1 lemon and a dash of olive oil. Mix together thoroughly and set aside
- In a separate pan, add the tomato puree, chopped tomatoes, garlic paste, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika powder, 1/2 of the dried red chillies and remaining lemon juice. Mix through
- Put the pan over medium heat and pour the red wine and 1tbsp olive oil. Give it a good stir and let the mixture simmer without the lid for about 30 minutes or till the wine has evaporated. As the mixture starts to simmer, tiny air bubbles will appear on the surface. If instead the mixture starts to boil, it means the flame needs to be reduced.
- Stir frequently as to prevent the mixture from burning from the bottom.
- While the mixture is simmering, add the remaining olive oil, chopped garlic and dried red chillies in a pan
- Saute on medium heat till the garlic turns to a pale brown
- Add the calamari and cook for 2-3 minutes till it turns opaque
- Take off fire and set aside till required
- Meanwhile cook the linguine in salted boiling water for 5 minutes or till al-dente
- Strain the water and rinse in cold water to prevent the linguine from sticking together
- Once the wine has evaporated and the tomato mixture has been reduced considerably, at least by half, turn off the heat
- In a bowl add the linguine and tomato and red wine reduction and mix together
- To serve, fork the linguine and tomato reduction on a plate. Top it off with the calamari along with the cooked garlic and dried red chillies
- Sprinkle with parsley, if need be
In order to enjoy the taste of the calamari and to tilt the balance of flavors towards the calamari, make sure not to add too much of the tomato and red wine reduction. If the dish is too saucy, it will overpower the taste of the calamari. Hence with the portions in this recipe, you can save some of the reduction to be used at a later date with more calamari or any other meat or seafood. Just add enough of the reduction to give the linguine a tangerine tint. This fusion dish was a pleasure to cook as well as eat. Calamari need no more be battered and fried to enjoy.