It’s me, again. Mr. Claire. As my Irish wife (who is busy wrapping gifts so I’m hiding) may have already told you, I’m Italian-American and I hail from Boston, and if you know anybody from that particular region and ancestry, my strong regional and family roots (and this Stuffed Calamari recipe) will be of no surprise to you.
I may live 1200 miles away now, but home is never far from my heart, and at no time do I feel the pull of Home more than at the Holidays.
That’s my Grandmother Concetta (“Grandma Chetta”) in our kitchen sometime in the 1980’s. Though the picture is not dated, I know it is Christmas Eve, because Grandma is holding a plate of calamari ripieni (AKA stuffed calamari). This was a dish that she typically only prepared on Christmas Eve as part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes and, while Grandma left us a few short years ago, I still feel her presence in the kitchen. Especially on December 24th.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is exactly what the name implies. It’s the Italian tradition of enjoying seven different fish dishes on Christmas Eve. This tradition has its roots in Southern Italy and owes its origins in part to the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on certain days of the week.
Thankfully by the time I came around we only had to suffer that particular injustice during Lent.
Couple that tradition with the Christmas Eve vigil of awaiting the arrival of Gesu Bambino then add in the Italian fondness for turning any occasion into a reason for cooking and eating in excelsis, and you have the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Viva Italia!
On Christmas Eve, my Grandma would prepare baccala (salt cod), fried smelts, shrimp, spaghetti con aglio e olio with anchovies, eel, and the dish I would like to share with you right now – calamari ripieni, alla Concetta.
Before we go further with this, a note on pronunciation. We Italians have a tendency to turn our hard “C’s” into “G’s” In addition, the vowel at the end of the word seems to be optional. “Calamari” therefore becomes “galamahdi” or just plain ol “galamahd.” To further add to the fun, some people like to add kalamata olives to their stuffing, which puts you in the rather awkward position of putting kalamatas in your galamahd.
If this is too much for you, I suggest a little Sambuca in a good strong cup of coffee and maybe a nap in your favorite chair (I don’t know if this will help anything, but my Grandfather sure seemed to enjoy it.
There are three major components to this fairly simple dish: the squid, the stuffing and the sauce. While I’ll give you the recipe at the end, I have some notes on each one.
THE CALAMARI (AKA “THE SQUID”):
- A note on cleaning squid: there is an easy way to clean squid, and that is this. Buy them that way. Seriously. On my first Christmas Eve away from my family, I bought several pounds of squid and cleaned them myself. After two hours’ worth of cutting, peeling, tearing and swearing, and up to my elbows in squid and ink, I called Grandma to tell her how impressed at how much work she had been doing all those years. “Oh, we haven’t cleaned our own in a long time,” she said. “It’s much easier to buy them that way.” Score one for modern amenities.
- If you are a die-hard DIY person, or if you just really don’t like yourself very much, this Youtube video is a good instructional on cleaning squid, but I warn you. This makes it look easier than it is:
- I consider a “medium” squid body to be around 8” long. They need to be sufficiently large for you to be able to fit fingers inside to stuff them, and also to allow for shrinkage during cooking (be especially wary of male squid as they tend to exaggerate their size, and they will deny the shrinkage).
- Grandma always used a very basic stuffing consisting of garlic, bread crumbs, egg, cheese and herbs. Other things you might add include the aforementioned Kalamata olives or capers. Some people like to reserve the squid tentacles, give them a quick saute, chop and add to the mixture.
- Feel free to play with the ratios of ingredients. When Grandma passed away and my mother was going through her old recipe books, she found this recipe written down no fewer than four times, and the ratios were different on every. single. one. Grandma’s real recipe book was her eyes, her hands and her mouth.
- Make sure you stuff these only about 2/3 of the way as the body will shrink and if you overstuff them, they will split and fall apart faster than Angelina’s marriage to Billy Bob. Some loss of stuffing is to be expected. You can minimize this by securing with a toothpick using the method shown here:
- If you already have a pot of tomato sauce bubbling on the stove (doesn’t everybody, like, all the time?), you can use the method my family used: cook the calamari first in oil in a skillet, then transfer to the stock pot to simmer for at least 20-30 minutes. I like them best this way.
- If you don’t already have tomato sauce (It’s ok, we can still be friends. Maybe.), you can create a simple one using the recipe below. The freshly stuffed calamari can be poached directly in the sauce without frying first.
- Grandma always stuffed these by hand. I suppose you could use a pastry bag too, but just don’t let me find out. I’ll come to your house and rap you on the back of the knuckles with a wooden spoon.
So there you have it – from my Grandma’s Christmas Eve table to yours. Mangia bene, and I wish a buon Natale to all of you!
- 12 medium squid tubes, cleaned
- 3c Italian-stye bread crumbs
- 6 heaping tbsp. freshly grated parmesan
- 1/2C chopped fresh parsley
- 4 tsp minced garlic, divided
- 1/2C olive oil, divided
- 2 eggs
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, reserving 1/4c oil and 1 tbsp garlic.
- Mix to combine, ensuring bread crumbs are thoroughly coated.
- Stuff squid 2/3 of the way to top and secure with toothpicks.
- In a heavy-bottomed skillet, saute 1tbsp garlic in 1/4C olive oil over medium heat.
- Carefully brown the calamari on all sides until the flesh is firm to the touch.
- Add to a slow-boiling pot of tomato sauce and simmer for at least 20 minutes.
- (I find the longer they simmer, the better!)
- Transfer to a warmed platter; serve with plenty of extra sauce and fresh grated Parmesan and Romano.
- 1/2C olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
- Pinch of Italian seasoning mix
- Pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
- 3 oz. tomato paste
- 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large sauce pan combine the oil onion, garlic, seasoning mix and red pepper flakes.
- Saute just until the onions turn golden.
- Add tomato paste and stir until blended.
- Add can of tomatoes and stir until the sauce comes to a light boil.
- Adjust seasonings, stirring often.
- When the sauce is to your liking, gently add calamari.
- Cook for 20-30 minutes, turning once or twice, until cooked through.