Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Calamarata Pasta with Calamari (squid) in Tomato Sauce.

When I was growing up, Christmas eve dinners were always a big deal. We sat at the table for hours, eating fish course after fish course. Later on in the evening, some of the neighbors would stop by, enjoying my mother's cooking and joining the boisterous conversation. Most of the fish were fried - including smelts, eels, baccala and other staples of the Italian-American "Feast of the Seven Fishes." Once my brother Frank brought home conch when he was stationed in Boston as a tour guide on the U.S. Constitution (both he and my brother Joe were in the Navy). I don't have any recollections of liking it, although I've since grown to enjoy conch when we're in the Caribbean, in either conch fritters or ceviche. There was always spaghetti too on Christmas eve. To me, the pasta was the highlight of the meal, and I don't know which I loved more - the spaghetti with crabs we'd have some years, or the spaghetti with squid other years. Either way, they were always served in a red sauce, and you needed plenty of napkins to keep your hands cleaned while eating the messy crabs.
After decades of taking over the reigns for the Christmas eve fish feast, I still make sure to have at least seven fishes, but have pared down quite a bit, and no longer make the fried fish as I once did. We gather around the coffee table first, eating octopus salad, shrimp cocktail and several other offerings, all washed down with ample prosecco being poured. 

I get a lot of help from other family members like my son, who makes baccala mantecato, that I used to serve with grilled polenta. But since gaining a Jewish daughter-in-law, who makes latkes in keeping with her Hanukkah tradition, we now spread the baccala over a latke -- a perfect combo and one we jokingly call "baccalatkes."

After an hour or so, we move to the dining room, but instead of presenting numerous main courses as I did for years, now I narrow it to one, in addition to a salad. Most years, it's been pasta with shellfish, (spaghetti ai frutti di mare) but even that requires multiple pots to be going at once -- two pots just to boil the pasta, plus a pot to saute the shrimp and scallops and separate pots to steam the mussels and clams. 

It can be done but it's a lot to juggle, especially if you're serving 16 people, as I am this year. And I hate missing out on all the fun happening in the living room while I'm in the kitchen.
So this year, I'm planning to serve pasta with squid in tomato sauce, requiring only three pots (two to boil the pasta and one to cook the squid) It's a dish reminiscent of what my mother made, but not with spaghetti. I'll be serving it with calamarata pasta, named after the calamari it so closely resembles. You can buy it at Italian grocery stores or online, but I also found it at Home Goods, a store that sells everything from carpets to candy. The food section at Home Goods always has a great selection of pasta -- and the brand I found there -- made by Falco -- was really good quality - extruded with bronze dies, and with a slow drying process, it held its shape well after cooking. It was also designed with ridges and that helps the sauce cling. 

The squid is normally pretty clean when I bring it home from the store, so I just rinse it and cut it into rings. Be sure to get some of the tentacles too. If your squid needs to be cleaned first, click here for a useful YouTube video to guide you through the process. This amount below was only slightly more than 1/2 lb., enough for two people, but I would figure on 3/4 lb. of cleaned squid for two. 

Saute the garlic and shallots in olive oil until soft, along with the red pepper flakes, then toss in the squid rings and cook until they become opaque.
Add the tomato passata, wine, salt, pepper and basil, then simmer for about 30 minutes. You can do this an hour before serving if you're having company, then turn off the heat and gently simmer again for 10 or 15 minutes while you boil the pasta.
After the pasta is cooked to the al dente stage, add it to the sauce and stir to get everything well coated. Sprinkle with more fresh basil and serve with a good dry wine. We're planning to open up several bottles of nero d'avola. It's a red wine from Sicily and I know some people would say white wine only with fish. But squid in tomato sauce can hold its own with a medium to full-bodied red wine and nero d'avola is one of our favorites. But if you prefer white wine, do your own thing. But please, don't sprinkle parmesan cheese on this dish!

I think this is the perfect dish for Christmas eve, and one that's sure to please everyone around our table this year -- from my two-year old granddaughter to my 102 year-old father. I hope you make it too, whether for Christmas eve or another time.
Wishing you all a Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo.

If you'd prefer this dish with a garlic and olive oil sauce, click here for that recipe. For more Christmas eve fish ideas, click here.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Calamarata pasta with calamari in tomato sauce
(serves four people)

1/2 cup olive oil
2 small shallots
4 large cloves of garlic
red pepper flakes, to taste
1 1/2 lbs. squid, cleaned and cut into rings
2 - 2 1/2 cups passata (or tomato puree)
3/4 cup dry wine (red or white)
1/2 teaspoon salt, pinch of black pepper
fresh basil
1 lb. calamarata pasta

Saute the shallots and garlic in the olive oil until limp. Add the red pepper flakes and the squid and cook the squid a few minutes until they are opaque. Add the wine, the passata and seasonings. Cook for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.
Boil the pasta until al dente, then add to the sauce and stir everything together until the pasta is well coated. Sprinkle more basil on top and serve.


Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Rose's Pizzelle

In most Italian and Italian-American households, pizzelle are always present at Christmas time. My mother made them not only on holidays, but periodically through the year. She died in 1986, but I will never forget the stacks of pizzelle she used to churn out when I was growing up. The vision of my mother seated at a table pressing her pizzelle iron closed, with the scent of anise that wafted through the house, lingers in my memory decades later.
My father remarried a few years after my mother's death, and his wife Rose also made dozens of pizzelle at Christmas. She hasn't made them in a few years, but I have to say, I am partial to her recipe, which uses anise seed instead of anise oil. I made them recently for a family reunion, and they disappeared quicker than melting snow, even though some of them were almost burnt. 

So I decided I had to make them again yesterday, and this time, they were all a uniform shade of beige. Truth be told, the first batch were on the dark side because I didn't think they were crispy enough, so after they cooled, I placed them on a cookie sheet and put them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. That was too long, and too hot. If yours aren't as crispy as you'd like, I recommend putting them on a wire rack on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes, but keep the oven at a low temperature of 200 degrees. 
The batter should be sticky and kind of thick. You may not need all the flour called for in the recipe.  I used a little less than 3 cups of flour this time, even though the recipe says to use 3 1/4 cups. A lot depends on the size of your eggs, and the humidity on the day you make them. It all gets blended with a wooden spoon. You don't need a mixer.
 I spray my pizzelle iron with "PAM" for the first batch, but after that, it doesn't need any more greasing.They come off easily using a tweezer or other kitchen utensil. I have my timer ready, and remove them after about 45 seconds, then place them on a wire rack. Keep in mind they're very pliable when they're hot, so make sure they lie flat to cool. You could also wrap them around a cannoli form when they're hot, if you want to make a tubular cookie. After they've cooled, if they're not as crisp as I'd like, I put them in the oven for a short while as mentioned above.

They keep for a very long time in an airtight tin, and make delicious gifts to friends, family and teachers too.

For something even more special, dip the edges in some melted chocolate, then pour some colorful sprinkles over the chocolate. 

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Rose's Pizzelle

printable recipe here


6 eggs

1 3/4 cup sugar

1/2 lb. butter, melted

3 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds

Beat eggs with a whisk, add the sugar and slowly add the melted butter.
Add the flour and anise seeds using either a mixer or a wooden spoon.
Place about 2 tablespoons of the batter onto the pizzelle iron and bake according to the instructions with your iron.
It may take one minute, or more, or less, depending on your iron.
Remove with a fork, or kitchen tweezers and let cool on a flat surface.
Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.