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Venetian calamari, fast without frying

Squid ready to be prepared in a quick Venetian method by Chef David Tanis, at his home kitchen in New York, Feb. 22, 2012. (The New York Times)
Chef David Tanis' stewed calamari, prepared in a quick Venetian method, at his home kitchen in New York, Feb. 22, 2012. (The New York Times)

Squid ready to be prepared in a quick Venetian method by Chef David Tanis, at his home kitchen in New York, Feb. 22, 2012. (The New York Times)

Chef David Tanis' stewed calamari, prepared in a quick Venetian method, at his home kitchen in New York, Feb. 22, 2012. (The New York Times)

In the realm of cheap, easy and good food, consider the squid. Plentiful, tasty, satisfying squid. But its English moniker can be a little off-putting to some, so let’s call it calamari. There, that’s better, isn’t it?
An Italian name deserves an Italian preparation, or at least I think so today. And there are many more than calamari fritti, perhaps the easiest squid dish to love. Though there is no denying that deep-fried calamari can be wonderful, it is a chore best left to a restaurant, unless you happen to have a sous-chef and a good exhaust fan.
For the home cook, I would recommend stewing calamari – either very quickly, as in this dish, or for a long cooking. In this respect, calamari is exactly like some of the cheaper cuts of meat. Stir-fried or sauteed briefly, it emerges from the pan tender and juicy.
Otherwise, when broth or other liquids are added, it will need lengthy simmering to be tender. Long, slow cooking can turn squid into some of the most complex and deeply flavored stews.
Here we rely on only a few ingredients and a very short cooking time. The calamari goes into the skillet with the Italianate trilogy of olive oil, garlic and herbs, along with red pepper, lemon zest and a splash of white wine. It is ready in less than five minutes once the pan is hot.
I think of this as a cold-weather dish, mainly because I have eaten similar versions on winter holidays in chilly Venice. But calamari is fished more or less year round, so it really could be made in any season. And though I would argue that fresh squid is preferable, even frozen will work, or you could use small fresh shrimp or scallops.
I also really like the polenta accompaniment here – again, a traditional Venetian treatment.
There is something quite wonderful about the flavorful pan juices paired with a plain little slice of polenta. But pasta or garlic toast or steamed rice might just as well stand in.
CALAMARI WITH HERBS AND POLENTA
Time: About 20 minutes, plus 45 minutes for the polenta
For the polenta:
Salt to taste
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter, optional
Freshly ground black pepper
For the calamari:
1 1/2 pounds cleaned squid
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped marjoram
2 tablespoons chopped mint
A splash of white wine, about 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped scallions
Lemon wedges, optional.
1. Cook the polenta. Bring 5 cups salted water to a boil in a small pot. Pour in the cornmeal, stirring with a whisk or wooden spoon until it thickens, about 2 minutes. Turn the flame to low and cook for 40 to 45 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter, if using, and a little freshly ground pepper. Serve warm from the pot. Or pour into a pan, allow to firm up and cut into wedges. Reheat for 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven.
2. Cut the squid bodies into 1/2-inch rings. Cut the tentacles in pieces or leave whole if small. Rinse, pat dry and season with salt and pepper.
3. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until the oil looks wavy. Carefully add the squid (it will spatter) and stir to coat. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, marjoram and mint and cook, stirring all the while, for 1 minute, until the squid rings have puffed up and look opaque. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Turn off the heat. Add the parsley and scallions and serve immediately with the accumulated pan juices and lemon wedges if desired.
Yield: 4 servings.


Updated : 2021-05-06 04:49 GMT+08:00