It's funny that people who are normally squeamish about eating oddball food have no problem with squid.
Maybe it's because most people encounter squid as fried calamari, which are often deep-fried rings with no discernible ocean flavor. This generic crisp and salty bar snack served with marinara sauce has mass appeal for young and old, even small children. But if they were told that calamari are actually bizarre-looking cephalopods with tentacles, and not somehow related to chicken nuggets, most kids wouldn't touch them.
A platter of fried calamari does make a good introduction to squid, though, and can be quite wonderful when it's well prepared. A good Italian restaurant is the best place to have them, maybe as part of a fritto misto. Many Thai restaurants offer excellent renditions sparked with hot pepper, mint and basil. In Spain, at streetside stands, you can buy a paper cone filled with freshly fried tiny squid called chipirones. They'll make you swoon.
There are countless other ways to enjoy squid. Try them whole, seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast them uncovered in a hot oven for 10 minutes or so, or throw them on the grill. With a dab of aioli or salsa verde - divine.
Braised long-cooked squid is also delectable. Simmering in tomato sauce until tender, or in a hearty red wine sauce, a common method used in many parts of Europe, is a way of treating squid a bit more like meat than fish. And squid stewed "in its own ink" shows up in arroz negro, a kind of black paella, or in pasta nero, garlicky spaghetti in a rich black sauce.
Sicilian cooks often make calamari ripieni, filling the whole squid's cavity with a savory breadcrumb stuffing. For this recipe, I add typical Sicilian ingredients like chard, fennel, anchovy, pecorino and pine nuts for an especially herby effect. The wild fennel fronds that grow prolifically on Sicilian soil are not available where I live, so I use a combination of fronds from cultivated fennel and crushed fennel seeds. Cooks in Northern California can forage for it, though.
Some use toothpicks to keep the stuffing in, but I don't mind if some falls out while the calamari are roasting.
Be sure to purchase the tentacles as well as the tubes (some fishmongers sell them separately). They are delicious when roasted alongside the stuffed calamari and great fun to eat.
Stuffed Squid Sicilian-Style
Time: 1 hour
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
12 ounces chard or spinach, chopped, about 6 cups
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced, about 1 1/2 cups
2 medium fennel bulbs, finely diced, about 1 1/2 cups
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds
2 teaspoons ground fennel seed
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3/4 cup homemade dry breadcrumbs
2 ounces grated pecorino cheese, about 1/4 cup
1 1/2 pounds cleaned medium squid, with tentacles
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Make the filling: Blanch the chard in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain and cool under running water. Squeeze chard completely dry and finely chop. Set aside.
2. Put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet or wide saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened and lightly colored, about 10 minutes. Add fennel fronds, fennel seed, anchovy, garlic, oregano and red pepper. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes more. Turn off heat and transfer mixture to a mixing bowl. Add pine nuts, lemon zest, breadcrumbs, cheese and reserved cooked chard. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Taste and correct seasoning.
3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Using a teaspoon, put some filling in each squid body, taking care not to overstuff. Place stuffed squid in an earthenware baking dish in one layer. Season squid on both sides with salt and pepper and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season tentacles with salt and pepper and arrange them around the edge of dish (alternatively, arrange tentacles in a separate baking dish). Drizzle tentacles lightly with oil. Spoon any remaining stuffing over tentacles.
4. Roast uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, until squid bodies are puffed, sizzling and lightly browned. If desired, run pan under the broiler for more color. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges. (May also be served at room temperature.) Serve each person 3 or 4 squid, with tentacles.
Note: You may make the stuffing up to 1 day in advance. Squid may be stuffed up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before roasting.