Calamari Cotti della Zia
St. Joseph’s Feast Day is just around the corner (March 19th) and what better way to celebrate than to share one of the few remaining Bartolini recipes, Zia’s Baked Calamari.
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The 12 of us living together in the two-flat were treated to some exceptional cooking, courtesy of Mom, Zia, and Nonna. We all had our favorites, to be sure, and I’ve made no attempt to hide my never-ending love of Bartolini ravioli. Even so, Zia’s baked calamari is the one dish that reigns supreme in several of our hearts,. You can be sure that when that platter is set on the table, photos will be snapped and dispatched to those not present. The caption is guaranteed to read something like, “Look what we had for dinner.” When not included, the “Nyeah, nyeah!” is implied.
Now that I know how they’re prepared, it all seems so easy. Getting here, though, was tortuous, leaving a trail of barely edible cephalopods in my wake. From over-stuffing the tubes with breading that was far too oily to roasting them at too high a temperature and for too long, if there was a mistake to be made, I found and made it — sometimes more than once. Finally I made it a point to stay in her kitchen and watch Zia perform every step of the process, even grabbing a bit of breading to get a feel for the amount of oil needed. And then it happened. I got it right. I’ve not been so happy with a dish since I made my first batch of our family ravioli. I am very happy to say that calamari is now a frequent guest of honor at my dinner table.
Since that momentous dinner, I have made a couple modest changes to the original recipe, adding a garlic clove to the stuffing and some lemon juice to the baking dish just before placing it in the oven. You can easily skip both if you like. Otherwise, you’ll find that the stuffing is very similar to the breading used in several of my family’s recipes. Zia adds a bit of lemon juice and the chopped tentacles to the mixture. No need to include the latter if you don’t want them.
Now, as I so painfully learned, here are the problems to avoid. Do not over saturate the filling with olive oil. It should be moist to the touch, not sopping wet. Fill, do not stuff, the tubes. Calamari shrink while being baked and, If too heavily stuffed, much of the excess will spill out. When properly filled, the tubes will shrink around the filling without any being lost. Lastly, raising the oven temperature will result in over-cooked calamari with under-cooked filling. (Been there, there, and, yes, even there.)
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Happy St. Joseph’s Feast Day, everyone!
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Baked Calamari Recipe
- 3 lbs calamari, fresh or frozen, cleaned (tentacles optional)
- 2 cups plain bread crumbs – Panko may be substituted
- half cup chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, minced or grated (optional)
- enough olive oil to moisten the bread crumbs – should not be sopping wet
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh lemon juice (optional)
- Clean the calamari, if necessary. Make sure to remove the beak located in the center of the tentacles. (See Notes)
- Chop the tentacles, if using.
- Combine all the ingredients, except for the calamari tubes, and mix well.
- Use the breading mixture to fill the calamari tubes. Do not overfill. The tubes will shrink while cooking.
- Place filled calamari in a baking dish that has been lightly oiled or sprayed with cooking spray.
- Sprinkle excess breading mixture on top of the calamari. (See Notes)
- Sprinkle lightly with olive oil and, if you like, a little lemon juice.
- Place in a pre-heated 350˚ F (175˚C) for 35 to 40 minutes. (See Notes)
- Serve immediately.
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I was unable to capture the process but you can watch a chef clean whole squid right HERE.
In the past, I’ve mentioned that rubbery calamari will result when not cooked quickly or for at least 45 minutes. Here, because they’re baked, a few minutes have been shaved off the cooking time. The calamari will be slightly crisp instead of being chewy.
In the highly unlikely event that there are leftovers, I like to slice them into rings and use them when I prepare pasta aglio e olio. Just follow the pasta recipe and add the calamari to the pan of seasoned oil when you add the pasta. When the pasta is ready, the calamari will be heated through.
The breading remnants in the baking dish are worth their weight in gold. Gather and place them in a sealable plastic bag to be stored in the freezer. Use them to garnish a future seafood pasta dish in place of cheese. They will add plenty of flavor to your pasta and all you need do is reach into the freezer to retrieve a bag.
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It’s déjà vu all over again …
WIth Easter fast approaching, why not take a look at a bread that’s traditionally prepared in Marchigiani homes for the holy day? The recipe comes from King Arthur Flour’s website but it is very reminiscent of a loaf that my Nonna made for her two young daughters, Mom and my Zia. You can learn all about it just by clicking HERE.
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Coming soon to a monitor near you …
Trenette with Mussels and Clams
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