Mom’s Calamari Salad

 

Insalata dei Calamari

Prior to the changes brought by Vatican Council II in the 1960′s, Christmas Eve was a “fast & abstain” day, meaning only 1 main meal could be consumed and no meat was to be eaten all day. For most Catholics around the World, it was a day of contemplation and that one meal was nothing special. With Christmas coming within 24 hours, all eyes — and appetites — were focused on the big day — and dinner — soon to come. Not so the Italians. If tomorrow’s a big holiday and today you can only have one meal, why not make that meal special? And so they did.  Can’t have any meat? No problem. With Italy being both peninsula and island, fish was very often more readily available than many meat products. And so it became a seafood banquet. Wait a minute! The Church may frown upon so grand a celebration on the eve of the birth of the Christ Child. Again, no problem. They made a point of serving seven fish, each one representing one of the Seven Sacraments of the Christian Faith. In one masterstroke, their seafood feast became an Act of Faith. What priest, bishop, or even Pope would dare interfere with these devout Catholics as they used the day’s only meal to commemorate the Seven Sacraments? (The fact that the clergy themselves were probably dining on an even more spectacular seafood supper didn’t hurt “the cause” either.) And so the Feast of the Seven Fishes was born and survives to this day wherever Italians call home.

It’s funny but I don’t recall hearing anything about the Feast of the 7 Fishes when I was growing up. This, despite our having a large seafood meal every Christmas Eve. Dad, working in a restaurant, would come home early in the evening of Christmas Eve, bearing gifts of clams, oysters, and red snapper, at the very least. This would be added to the shrimp and crabmeat that Mom was preparing as appetizers and the calamari she was using to make a salad. As Dad shucked, he helped Mom with the recipes for clams casino and oysters Rockefeller. (Yes, Dad could cook but it was a skill he successfully kept under wraps except on the most rare of occasions.) There was, of course, a big platter of home-made linguine with tuna — or possibly clams — to be served along with the red snapper that Mom had broiled. It was, by any measure, quite a feast of seafood — we just never counted the “participants”.

Although today I do not maintain this family tradition, I do, however, make sure that my plans for Christmas Eve include a meal of seafood, no matter what. Since I’ve posted a number of seafood recipes over the past several months, I thought I’d post links to them all for anyone planning a Feast of the 7 Fishes but who may be missing a fish or two. Before doing that, however, I’ll share Mom’s recipe for Calamari Salad because, well, you should have it; she said so. And, next week, I’ll share the Bartolini recipe for what is the traditional main course in many Italian homes on Christmas Eve, Baccalà (salted cod), which, by the way, is also one of the 7 Fishes.

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The Real McCoy

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Now, there are a few things to consider with the recipe I’m about to share. First off, when cooking calamari, it’s been said to either cook it for 1 minute or 45. Anything in between and you’ll be eating something akin to rubber. So, use a big pot, bring it to a rolling boil, and get those squid into, and out of, the pot quickly. Beyond that, this recipe is typical of most of my family’s in that it features a few ingredients with relatively few spices. It is all about balance, that’s why there are no amounts given. Yes, Mom listed 1 green and 1 red pepper but I omitted the quantities. It all depends upon how much calamari you use and you’ll note that Mom didn’t list the amount of calamari needed in her recipe. Chop and mix as much bell pepper, red and green, as your eye tells you. (For 1 1/2 lbs calamari, I used about 2/3 each green & red bell pepper.) Taste the onion and let that determine how much to use. If you feel it’s too strong, feel free to give it a quick rinse under cold water after you’ve chopped it. Still not liking the onion? Try a shallot or 2 instead. Lastly, if you’re not comfortable adding the dressing ingredients directly onto the calamari & peppers, then mix it first in a small bowl, taste it, adjust if necessary, and then dress your calamari with it. Bear in mind that most homemade vinaigrettes call for 3 parts oil (olive) for every one part acid (vinegar or, in this case, lemon juice).

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Mom’s Calamari Salad Recipe

Ingredients

  • squid, cleaned and cut into rings (halve tentacles, if using)
  • green bell pepper, diced
  • red bell pepper, diced
  • red onion, diced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • fresh parsley
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
  2. Add the calamari, stir, and turn off the heat.
  3. After one minute remove from water and place in an ice bath to chill. (Calamari may be “held” here for a couple of hours until ready to be served.)
  4. Once fully chilled, drain, place calamari on paper towels, and pat dry before dressing immediately with lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper.
  5. Toss and serve.

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This couldn’t be easier to prepare and, best of all, you can cook the calamari, make the dressing, and chop the peppers, onion, & parsley ahead of time and store it all separately in the fridge. Just before serving, mix the ingredients, season with salt & pepper, and bring it to the table. Who wants to be stuck in the kitchen when there are unattended gifts to shake?

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All righty! That’s 1 recipe down and 11 more to go. As promised, here are the seafood recipes that I’ve shared during the past year.

Tomato Sauce with Tuna

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Fried Calamari

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Pasta with Clams (“White Sauce”)

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Pasta al Salmone

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Grandpa’s Barbecued Shrimp

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 Pasta with Clams (“Red Sauce”)

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Salmon en Papillote — on the grill

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Pasta with Shrimp

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Brodetto

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Lumache alla Bartolini

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Puttanesca Sauce

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As you can see, of the 11 dishes presented, 7 involve pasta. I’m afraid that’s a bit too much pasta for a Feast of the 7 Fishes, even for me. So, I’ve got a plan. For your primo piatto, prepare my Brodetto. That’s 5 fish in one dish! Clear the table and serve today’s calamari salad alongside next week’s Baccalà and you’ll have all 7 fishes, present and accounted for, in only 2 courses. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Oh! About dessert. Yes, you may have dessert but, keeping in mind that it is a day of fasting and in the spirit of the Feast of the 7 Fishes, go easy on the whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Besides, you’ll need room for the fruit & cheese platter that you’ll be  serving while the chestnuts are roasted.

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