Calamari From The Port Of Santa Lucia
I first came across this dish at the Montreal restaurant “Da Emma.” I was a little girl, about eight years old and my grandparents took me out for a lavish dinner to celebrate my birthday. Emma, who at the time was already in her sixties, came out of the kitchen to say hello to my grandparents and upon learning my name she bore a grin reminiscent of the cheshire cat.
She wore a white apron speckled with crimson drops of tomato sauce. Her hair was salt and peppered, tied back in a neat bun at the nape of her neck. She hugged me in her wide arms and as I sunk into her pillowy torso, the smell of the Italian kitchen and starched linen filled my heart with the feelings of home.
I told Emma that one day I would be a chef just like her and ten years later I went back and met Emma once more, but this time with a culinary arts diploma in hand. Emma had since aged, her hair more white now, matching her apron still speckled with tomato sauce. Once again she pulled me close and in roughly spoken Italian, congratulated my achievement. Although I was now taller and stronger than she, I reverted back to that little girl filled with wonder and the smell of the Italian kitchen and starched linen comforted me anew.
As romantic and nostalgic this story is, so is this dish. Hailing from the historical Borgo Santa Lucia in Naples, which most historians believe was founded by a granddaughter of Constantine I, this dish was a staple for the sailors that spent their lives at sea. The perfect blend of the tomatoes, chili flakes, white wine and garlic finished with a splash of vinegar will ignite your palate, and your mouth will dawn a smile on it’s own.
10 small squid, (about 3 pounds total)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 small onion (small dice)
4 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
crushed red pepper (to taste)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
½ cup dry white wine
1 can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
2 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper (to taste)
1/4 cup fresh Italian Parsely, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan cheese for garnish
Clean the calamari, or have the fish monger prepare the squid for you. Cut the bodies into 1/2 -inch rings, rinse them in cold water and drain very well.
Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy skillet over medium heat and sauté the garlic and onion until just turning golden brown.
Over high heat, add the calamari, thyme, bay leaf and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Sauté until the pan is almost dry and the calamari starts to brown.
Sprinkle the vinegar over the calamari and scrape up the browned bits from the pan.
Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, continuing to scrape the skillet. Cook until the wine is evaporated and the calamari are golden, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes to the skillet and cook over low heat until the calamari are very tender. Season with sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with fresh herbs and parmesan. Serve warm.