Cookbook Profile



Spaghetti with Squid
and White Beans


This is essentially spaghetti aglio, olio, e peperoncino, with more clothes on. If you can't find good fresh squid, make the dish with shrimp or grilled rare tuna. Basil or rosemary is a fine substitute for the marjoram. To make it vegetarian, skip the squid and add chopped fresh tomato. In the time it takes to boil the pasta, the sauce will be ready.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, put the squid in a colander, rinse briefly, and pat dry. Heat the olive oil in a large deep skillet over high heat. Make sure the oil is good and hot. Carefully add the squid; the oil will splatter at first. Season generously with salt and pepper and stir with a wooden spoon. Quickly add the garlic, pepper flakes, and marjoram and cook for no more than a minute. Then stir in the white beans.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and add it to the skillet. Add salt and a drizzle of olive oil, toss quickly, and transfer to a serving bowl.

Variation: Salad of Squid and White Beans

For an easy first course, omit the pasta. Pile the warm squid and beans onto a platter, surround with slices of tomato and sweet onion, and drizzle with olive oil.



A Squid Lesson

by David Tanis

When you look for squid in a fish store, you want to see it just glistening, the eyes clear and gorgeous. Most fish stores that sell cleaned squid are selling frozen squid. It's obviously better to buy fresh squid and clean it yourself. It's so unbelievably easy to do, it takes about ten seconds per squid.

At the restaurant, we clean about twenty-five pounds at a time, but I find it a completely enjoyable task. An old Chinese guy who was in charge of cutting fish in one of the first restaurants I cooked at in San Francisco taught me how. It's worth learning his very efficient method. The key is never putting down the knife (it stays firmly in one hand) and using your free hand to maneuver the squid.

Here's the method: Lay the squid on a cutting board, tentacles stage right. With a sharp knife, cut off the tentacles just above the eyes, then gently touch the tentacles with the side of the knife and pop out the little round "beak." Pluck away the beak with the left hand. With the knife blade, grab the tip of the cellophane-like quill at the top of the body, and, holding the quill with the knife, tug the squid body backward with the left hand. Then press the back of the knife against the body to squeeze out the innards. It takes more time to describe than to do it.


Crazy for Squid

In America, we only know pretty much one size of squid, but they have an enormous range—from as tiny as your fingernail to bigger than a speedboat. The pervasive and insipid fried calamari, which has somehow become our standard bar food, is worlds away from expertly fried squid. When I'm in Italy, I'm crazy about the little fried calamaretti. I love the chipirones, baby squid, in Spain. There's a little place in Seville where you can buy them hot from the fryer served in a paper cone. Something about those crisp, teeny tiny squid that you eat whole completely gets me.

At home, oven-roasted squid is easy and wonderful. Start with small squid, say about 4 inches or less, cleaned and tentacles and bodies separated. Season them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, put both the tentacles and bodies on a baking sheet, and throw them in a hot oven (450 degrees F) for about 15 minutes, until they're puffed up a bit and browned. Sprinkle with garlic and parsley.

In Asia, life without squid—in soups and stir-fries—would be unthinkable. Squid marries so well with ginger, garlic, and cilantro. I like to think of it as the pork of the sea, and, in fact, squid is very good with pork—with Chinese sausage, for instance. Dried squid is really popular in Southeast Asia but virtually unknown outside of Asian cuisine. A common street food in Thailand is whole dried squid toasted over coals, then run through the pins of a hand-cranked roller. It comes out thin as paper, and you eat it almost like chips, dipped in a spicy sauce.

And let's not forget the wonderful things you can do with cuttlefish ink, which is richer and darker than squid ink. Cuttlefish is a firm-fleshed cousin of the squid, equally delicious. I always find it fascinating that in Italy cuttlefish in its own ink alongside a slice of polenta is considered everyday fare, just as a slice of meat loaf would be in Philadelphia. When you make the black sauce, with undertones of tomato and garlic and saffron, the ink imparts a flavor as deep as the ocean, with a surprising sweetness. Added to a dish like spaghetti nero or risotto, it has the intensity of wine.


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This page created February 2011