Stuffed Whole Squid Braised with Onions, Tomatoes, Chili Pepper, and White Wine

Calamari Ripieni

It is only recently that I discovered that what I mean by calamari isn’t necessarily the same as what an American guest has in mind. Good friends from the States were visiting in Venice and we had gone together to the city’s best fish restaurant. I asked if I could help decipher the menu, but one of them replied, “It isn’t necessary. I see from it they have calamari and that is what I am going to have.” When a platter with whole, roasted squid was brought to him he was indignant. “What is that!” “Didn’t you order calamari?” I asked. “Sure, but that isn’t calamari; calamari comes in rings and it is fried.”

I yield to no one in fondness for what my friend refers to as calamari, but slicing it up into rings is not the only wonderful thing you can do with a squid’s sac. You can use it whole as a remarkable, ready-made, tender container of tasty stuffings.

I have always marveled at the goodness of things stuffed. I don’t know entirely how to account for it. A mysterious interpenetration of flavors takes place and stuffed squid—or stuffed cabbage leaves, stuffed zucchini, a stuffed bird—exceeds in its capacity to please the separate endowment of both the wrapper and what it contains. Could it be too that there is a childlike joy in retrieving, as though it were treasure, something that has been concealed within something else?

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Ingredients

  • 6 whole squid with 6 to 8-inch-long sacs
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup fresh, ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and cut up, or canned, imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • Salt
  • Chopped red chili pepper, teaspoon or to taste
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ¼ cup fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs
  • cups very, very thinly sliced onions
  • ¼ cup dry white wine

Fine needle and cotton thread or strong, round wooden toothpicks

Method

Preparing the Squid for Stuffing

  1. Put the squid in a bowl filled with cold water, and soak them for 30 to 45 minutes.
  2. Hold a squid sac in one hand, and with the other, grasp and firmly pull off the tentacles. They will come away easily, taking with them the squid’s pulpy insides.
  3. Cut the tentacles straight across just above the eyes, and discard everything below them. Squeeze off the small, bony beak at the base of the tentacles. Wash the tentacles in cold water and pat thoroughly dry with kitchen towels.
  4. Look for the end of the cellophane-thin, quill-like bone protruding from the sac, grasp it, and pull the quill away.
  5. Peel off all the skin enveloping the sac. Cut a tiny opening—absolutely no larger than ¼ inch—at the tip of the sac, hold the large open end of the sac under a faucet, and run cold water through it.
  6. Cut off the fleshy fins at the sides of the sac, taking care not to perforate the sac itself. Chop the fins and tentacles together. If using the food processor, do not chop too fine, to a pulp.

Making the Stuffing

  1. Put tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped garlic in a small skillet, turn the heat on to medium, and cook the garlic, stirring frequently, until it becomes colored a pale gold.
  2. Add the parsley, stir two or three times, then add the chopped tentacles and squid fins. Turn over a few times during 1 minute, then add the tomatoes, salt, and chili; turn over two or three times to coat all ingredients well; and cook at a steady but gentle simmer until the tomatoes are no longer watery but dense, about 30 minutes. Pour the contents of the skillet into a bowl, letting them cool completely.
  3. When the tentacles and tomatoes are cold, add the egg yolk and bread crumbs, turning over all ingredients several times to produce a smooth, homogeneous mixture.

Making the Onion Base and Stuffing and Cooking the Squid

  1. While the tentacles and tomatoes are cooling off, you can begin to cook the onions. Choose a sauté pan or skillet large enough to contain all the squid sacs later in a single, uncrowded layer, without overlapping. Put in tablespoons of olive oil and the sliced onions, and turn on the heat to medium low. Cook the onions, turning them over from time to time, until they become colored a rich golden caramel and are considerably reduced in bulk.
  2. When you have combined the tentacles, tomatoes, egg yolk, and bread crumbs, divide the mixture into six parts and spoon it into the squid sacs. Do not fill the sacs too tightly or they may burst while cooking when they begin to shrink. Sew up the opening of each sac with needle and thread or fasten it securely shut with a toothpick If using needle and thread, remove the needle from the kitchen as soon as you have completed the procedure.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the cooked onions, turn the heat up to medium high, and put in the stuffed squid. Cook the sacs, turning them over, until they have been browned on all sides.
  4. Add the white wine, let it bubble away completely, then turn the heat down to low and put a lid on the pan. Cook at the gentlest of simmers for at least 45 minutes. Longer will do no harm. Should you find during this time that the juices in the pan are insufficient to keep the squid from sticking, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water when necessary.
  5. When done transfer the squid to a cutting board, cut the sacs into ½-inch-thick slices, and return the slices to the pan. Over low heat, for about half a minute, turn the slices over to coat them well. Serve from a warm platter, pouring the full contents of the pan over the sliced squid.

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