Q: I had the most delicious squid pasta while vacationing in Michigan's UP. I have a basic recipe, and I hope to try it out soon. I have questions for you: Where on earth can I find squid or calamari in the far western suburbs of Chicago? I haven't a clue where she found it up there or if it was fresh or frozen. I would probably get overwhelmed cleaning and prepping, so I may need frozen? She also mentioned putting wine corks in the sauce to keep the calamari from getting rubbery. Have you ever heard of that? This was a spicy red sauce over thin spaghetti noodles -- ever good -- do you have a more specific recipe for it?
—Toni Chapman, Batavia
A: First of all, for those readers wondering who the "she" is in Toni Chapman's email, a quick telephone call disclosed that "she" is the girlfriend of the brother of Chapman's nephew. That nephew came up with the squid recipe that his brother's girlfriend made and was so enjoyed by Chapman while on vacation in the Upper Peninsula. Everyone got that? (This is what I love about well-regarded home recipes; there's often a family tree's worth of people behind 'em).
Ok, on to the squid. It's available fresh or frozen year-round and is sold in a variety of ways, Sam Fantauzzo, director of operations for Angelo Caputo's Fresh Markets, said the Addison-based grocery chain sells squid cleaned, uncleaned, whole, cut into rings or cut into tubes.
"Some customers, particularly the ethnic customer, prefer to clean the squid themselves and cut into pieces,'' he said. "Some people are squeamish. They want it cut up and cleaned so they can bread it and fry it."
Buy it whatever way you want, or can find, in a supermarket or fish store near you. To see if your store carries squid, and they just might, ask at the seafood counter or service desk. If not, get on the telephone and call other stores. Italian or Asian markets are always a good bet. At the most, you'll simply have to place an order for squid; most stores will be happy to get it for you – and clean it, if necessary.
I don't have much experience cooking squid but Joe Gray, the Good Eating food editor, does. In a 2006 column, he offered a recipe using cleaned squid washed well in cold water before using.
You asked, Toni, for a calamari pasta recipe. I give you Joe's, which calls for orecchiette pasta instead of thin spaghetti. But you can always switch back to spaghetti if you like or omit the olives. Recipes like this are basic, delicious and adaptable.
As for the cork-in-the-sauce method for keeping squid from going all rubbery, well, I haven't tried it. Nor am I sure I want to. Give me instead a kitchen timer to remind me to keep checking the pot, a pair of sharp eyes to watch the cooking, and a full set of teeth to test the squid for doneness.
Squid with pasta, tomatoes and olives
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
This recipe from Tribune's Joe Gray is loosely inspired by a Venetian-style calamari recipe in "1,000 Italian Recipes," by Michele Scicolone.
1/2 pound orecchiette pasta, or small shells
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds squid, cleaned, bodies cut into 1/2-inch rings, tentacles left whole
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup mixed black and green olives, pitted, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Cook pasta in abundant salted water according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large heavy skillet. Add garlic; cook until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add squid, tomatoes and wine; heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squid is almost tender, about 25 minutes. Add olives, salt and pepper to taste; cook 5 minutes more.
3. Drain pasta; stir into skillet along with the parsley. Serve in pasta bowls.
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