Monthly Archives: December 2020

MOM’S CHRISTMAS EVE STUFFED CALAMARI, MY VERSION

Traditions, we all have them. Some we hold onto so tightly and never want to let go for fear of losing forever the people or places they remind us of. This is especially true when people in our lives pass away, when we physically are no longer near the places where these memories came from. Food is the connector often between that memory and the present day. Holidays seem to be a real trigger for these emotions and traditions. One way I keep my Mom and Dad at our Holiday dinners is by recreating in some way a dish that was served by them as we grew up. Specifically I’m talking about my Mom’s Stuffed Calamari (squid) in Sauce that was one of many Seafood dishes she served on Christmas Eve. For ItalianAmericans it was an extention of the old Catholic pre-Feast fasting, when the night before a religious holiday no meat was allowed. While this practice in the Catholic church is centuries gone, it became part of the Christmas Holiday traditions in Italy. No matter where you go in Italy there will be families that are only eating Fish or Seafood and in Italian America, since most of our ancestors came over 100 years ago to the USA we still celebrate their 100 year and older traditions. What changed between Italy and the USA over these 100 years is the amount of seafood and fish dishes that are served. Oh yes, there are a few places in Southern Italy where there’s a number attached to the amount of fish dishes on Christmas Eve but it’s not a majority practice. Somehow the name, Feast of the Seven Fishes was coined here in the USA and in the last 30 years it’s the name and sometimes practice ItalianAmericans follow. Historically, most of Southern Italy was quite poor 125 years ago and that’s why they immigrated in such large numbers to the USA. People living in those meager conditions would never have the means to pull off a multicourse fish and seafood dinner. Fishermen needed to sell the better fish to make a living and basically fed their family the unwanted bits and pieces. So that fish dinner on Christmas Eve was often a Brodetto, a mix of fish and seafood pieces that streched it into a meal for many. Baccala’, the dried Salt Cod was also a popular item because it was plentiful and kept for months before it was to be used. Coming to America the initial Christmas Eves, or La Vigilia as it’s called for the new Immigrants were small affairs similar to what they had in Italy with maybe a few more dishes here and there because all foods were more accessible and plentiful in the USA, especially the urban centers. Fast Forward to the first generation of ItalianAmericans born in the USA and around the time of WWII we enter the BOOM time of the 1950s where people are doing better, the celebrations were bigger as the families grew and the number of dishes served went up exponentially. My Dad never made tons of money, he always provided us with what we needed and then some, but Christmas Eve was the BIG NIGHT. All types of seafood were in the kitchen with Mom at the stove frying, baking, grilling, braising. This is how I believe the “Feast of the 7 Fishes” became a thing, an ItalianAmerican thing. One of these dishes is My mom’s stuffed calamari and I’d like to share it with you for your Christmas Eve or whenever. I don’t do the whenever. Mom made it once a year, so I do to. To honor her. To remember her. It’s what makes it a tradition.

STUFFED CALAMARI FOR 6

TIME: 2 HOURS

THE SAUCE:

Southern Italian Seafood Sauces with tomato are generally composed of only a few ingredients, often perfumed with really good olive oil and garlic, a good dose of heat from peperoncino (either fresh italian red chiles or dried). Sometimes a touch of White Wine, and parsley. Seafood sauces paired with fried seafoods tend to be heavier on the oil, garlic, peperoncino, and a pinch of oregano in there. They are also thicker. This One for the Stuffed Calamari is one of the first types. More like a regular pasta sauce.

3 TBS GOOD EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

3 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1 TSP PEPERONCINO (DRIED HOT ITALIAN CHILE FLAKES)

1/2 TSP SEA SALT

1/8 CUP WHITE WINE

2 28 OZ CANS OF GOOD QUALITY ITALIAN PLUM TOMATOES, like San Marzano, or a good POMODORI PELATI. Crush the tomatoes with your hands or a processor.

3 SPRIGS OF ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

Make the sauce first. In a saucepan/pot heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and peperoncino. Sprinkle the salt over that. Stir making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. After about 2 minutes on medium heat add the wine. Let this come to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Now add the parsley then the tomatoes. Blend well. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Let this simmer for 1/2 hour. While that’s going on let’s stuff the CALAMARI!!!

THE CALAMARI

10 CLEANED MEDIUM SIZE CALAMARI “TUBES”

1/8 CUP CHOPPED CALAMARI TENTACLES

1/2 TSP LEMON ZEST

JUICE OF 1/2 LEMON

1 1/4 CUP GOOD ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS

2 TBS OLIVE OIL

2 FINELY MINCED GARLIC CLOVES

2 TBS. FINELY MINCED FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

3 TBS GRATED PECORINO

1/2 TBS. PEPERONCINO

15 RAISINS

15 PIGNOLI NUTS

PINCH OF SEA SALT

10 CAPERS (OPTIONAL)

5 GAETA OLIVES , CHOPPED (OPTIONAL)

Blend everything together except the tubes. This will form a stuffing blend for you. Some years mom blended an egg into the mix, others she did not. The eggs will create a solid stuffing, no egg creates a looser one. I always make the non-egg one. With each Calamari tube carefully fill each one leaving room at the bottom, and about an inch or more at the top. The Stuffing will expand and you don’t want the tubes to burst into the sauce (and yes that’s happened to me plenty of times and it makes for a really tasty sauce to serve over macaroni, but with all this work, you want your calamari to stay nice, capisci? Good). Fold the tops over so you can skewer them with a long toothpick. But they time you’ve done all this the sauce is ready for the calamari!! Simply drop the calamari into the sauce and make sure they are all covered. Simmer this for 50 minutes, Remove from the heat and let it sit in the sauce for 15 minutes. Done.

HOW TO SERVE? Glad you asked. However you would like is my first answer. My second answer is go Italian style but serving the sauce over a pasta for a first course (primo) then the Stuffed Calamari with a side vegetable as a second course (secondo) OR, like Mom did it, the sauce on the macaroni and with the Calamari on the side all at once. Thanks to all who asked me for this recipe today, I’m sure my Mom is smiling!!

SHRIMP MARINARA…MY VERSION..WITH PASTA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

SHRIMP MARINARA…..One of the classic dishes of the ITalianAmerican Restaurant and many homecooks. Basically a tomato sauce with Shrimp in it served over pasta. The most traditional pasta is long style, like Spaghetti, Linguine, etc but I love it with cut tubed macaroni like ziti rigati or penne rigati. Why? Rigati means RIDGED and it catches more of the sauce as does the hollow tubes. The sauce gets inside and there’s flavor in every bite. Often the dish is made with a simmering tomato sauce with the shrimp tossed in at the last minute to cook thru. This helps to impart a little of that sweet taste of the sea to the sauce but also often overcooks the shrimp. I have a two step process and i get the seafood essence in the sauce by adding some anchovies to the sauce saute’. This way the shrimp stay plump and crisp and there’s no overcooking. Marinara Sauce….is it Italian? Yes and no. The Term MARINARA in Italian cuisine means anything made with seafood/fish. In ItalianAmerican cuisine is means a meatless sauce, with or without the addition of seafood or fish. Lots of legends about this sauce but for purposes of this blogpost it really follows Italian tradition as the dish contains seafood. Just some “food for thought”. Make the sauce first and have it completed and just simmering when you make the shrimp and then just drop the shrimp into the sauce and turn off the heat. Brilliant.

SHRIMP MARINARA

4-6 SERVINGS 2 HOURS

THE SAUCE:

2 28 oz cans of GOOD QUALITY TOMATOES…preferably Italian Imported plum tomatoes, or San Marzano DOP (my most preferred) OR 56 oz of imported tomato PASSATA (found in most Italian markets and some supermarkets) Using whole tomatoes from the can, simply mash well with your hands or use a food processor.

6 sliced CLOVES OF FRESH GARLIC

FRESH PARSLEY

3 ANCHOVY FILETS

3 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

PINCH (OR MORE UP TO YOU) OF PEPERONCINO (DRIED HOT CHILE FLAKES)

2 TBS. DRY WHITE WINE, PREFERABLY ITALIAN (IT’S AN ITALIAN DISH, WHY NOT?)

Using a heavy bottomed (always recommended for tomato based sauces) high sided pot or pan heat the olive oil. Add the anchovies and peperoncino. Mash the anchovies into the heated oil. Lightly season with salt as the anchovy might be salty. Add the garlic and a few sprigs of fresh parsley. When the garlic is almost golden and fragrant add the white wine. Stir, bring to a boil then add the tomatoes. Blend well. Bring to a boil. THEN reduce to a simmer stirring every now and then. The sauce should reduce by almost 1/2 when it’s done. PRO TIP: A tomato sauce is done for pasta when you no longer see a separation of water and sauce. This problem was called “AQUADD” by my father when people’s pasta sauces leaked pink water around the plate/bowl. Not all canned tomatoes are the same and many American brands are made from tomatoes that are not “sauce” tomatoes. They take longer to cook the water out of them, bear that in mind when shopping. It’s why I’m a stickler with the imported Italian plums, they are naturally created with less water in the fruit so they are better suited to sauce making. OK, enough of all that…let me get you back to cooking. LOL. Taste the sauce for seasoning when you’re done. Now let’s make the shrimp.

THE SHRIMP:

36 PEELED AND DEVEINED USA WILD CAUGHT 16-20 SIZE SHRIMP

SALT/BLACK PEPPER. 1/2 TSP OF EACH BLENDED TOGETHER

3 TBS OLIVE OIL

1 lb PASTA OF CHOICE, COOKED ACCORDING TO THE PACKAGE INSTRUCTIONS. I LIKE FOR THIS PENNE RIGATE FROM ITALY.

Make sure to blot dry the shrimp with paper towels. This helps them caramelize on the edges and not steam. Using a heavy bottomed pan (like a cast iron) heat the olive oil to medium high. Place the shrimp in a bowl and toss well with the salt and pepper mixture. IN BATCHES, fry the shrimp JUST until they are lightly golden on the edges on both sides. Takes about 2 minutes per side. DO NOT CROWD THE PAN or you’ll be steaming the shrimp. Remove them to another bowl. When you are done frying the shrimp then add them to the SAUCE. Stir to blend well. Let them sit in the hot sauce for 3 minutes. While all this is happening you’ll have cooked the macaroni according to the directions. AL DENTE ALWAY!! Making sure not to add any Shrimp to the pasta, use your ladle to add just enough sauce to the pasta to coat it all. (PLEASE, don’t follow those pictures where the sauce sits on top of dry hot pasta, coat the pasta with the sauce!! but don’t drown it!). When you’ve done that, turn the pasta out onto a deep serving platter or bowl. NOW, Top the platter with the Shrimp, using a slotted spoon. Done. Add more sauce if you like or sauce on the side for everyone to add their preference. Garnish the plates with chopped parsley (or basil, some like basil with this, i’ve always been taught to just use parsley), and more peperoncino. BUON APPETITO!!!