Calamari Stewed with Tomatoes

Squid can be cooked one of two ways: For the blink of an eye, or for a long, long time. Anything in between and it is rubbery. This dish, which is our version of a Southern Italian classic called calamari in umido, takes the long view of calamari cooking.

Think of this dish as something between a stew and a pasta sauce. It’s every bit as good as-is—with crusty bread, of course—as it is accompanying pasta (go with a short pasta like penne, bowties or fusilli) or, even better, a creamy polenta. You can even add a little cheese to the polenta, if no one’s looking. Italians rarely mix seafood and cheese.

Calamari Stewed with Tomatoes Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

You can buy frozen, cleaned squid in the freezer section of many grocery stores. Defrost by placing in refrigerator overnight, or in a bowl of ice water. This recipe does call for an anise-flavored liquor, which you can leave out if you want, but the dish will be better with it in.



  • 2 pounds cleaned calamari (squid), tubes sliced into rings and tentacles roughly chopped
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup Sambuca or other anise-flavored liquor
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fennel fronds, chopped


1 Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and fennel. Stir to coat with oil and sauté, stirring occasionally, until it begins to color, about 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle some salt over it. Add the garlic cloves and tomato paste and stir well to combine. Cook this for another 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice.

2 Add the red wine, stir well, and increase the heat to high. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half.

3 Add the Sambuca or other anise-flavored liquor, and the crushed tomatoes. Stir in the calamari and bring the pot to a gentle simmer. Simmer for at least 1 hour. After an hour, taste a piece of calamari; It should be tender. If it’s not, keep simmering. Check for tenderness every 15 minutes afterward.

4 Once the calamari is tender, taste the stew for salt and pepper, adding if needed. Add the chopped parsley and fennel fronds. Stir well to combine and serve.

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  1. Katerina

    In culinary school they call it the 20/20 rule. Cook it for either 20 seconds or 20 minutes. Anything in between and it will be like rubber! I just love calamari.

  2. Sara

    Can one do long-cooked calamari in a crock pot?

    I’ve never done it, but I am pretty sure it will work. I’ve stewed calamari like this in a low oven or on the stove for several hours and it was fine. Let us know how it works, OK? ~Hank

  3. Nancy Singleton Hachisu

    Some people object to the texture of squid…personally I love it, especially not too cooked, or raw. But others find squid to have a fishy smell. The trick to getting rid of any lingering odors is to put the squid in a strainer and pour boiling water over it, then quickly plunge into ice water. This is a particularly good to try if one is thinking of eating the squid raw or perhaps just fried, with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt. Lovely recipe and just in time for these cold winter days. I love the addition of Sambuca to pick up the fennel. Thanks, Hank.

  4. J

    If you don’t drink, don’t add alcohol to anything. Is there a substitute or if one omits the alcohol and liquor altogether will this recipe still taste good? It sounds amazing. maybe I’ll just bite the bullet, omit and taste.

    The liqueur is important to get my flavors exactly, but a good substitute would be to grind 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds and add it when you would normally add the liqueur. ~Hank

  5. Charles Bernard

    Your site has the best and most varied recipes ! We love calamari and I intend to make this for Christmas but my wife is going to monopolize the kitchen in preparing and cooking/roasting the main meal( turkey with summer savory bread stuffing and assorted delicacies), as is her right. Can this delicious calamari recipe be frozen, thawed and reheated without losing too much of its qualities, taste and texture ?

    Yikes, I don’t know. I think a better route would be to make it 2-3 days ahead – but leave out any last minute ingredients like herbs – and then reheat it. The stew will last in the fridge that long. Add all the last-minute stuff when you serve. ~Hank

  6. Alex

    Hello. Do you think this stew would be fine with some fennel seed instead of the anise-flavored liquor? I don’t have that type of liquor and I really want to make this yummy-looking stew. Thanks.

    I bet it would be fine. Try grinding up 1 tablespoon of fennel seeds into a powder and adding that. ~Hank

  7. Andrea Wenderski

    Hi. Just one suggestion for those who don’t want to use anise liquor: anise oil or anise extract. Either one works well when I make pizzelle cookies. Just remeber, the anise oil is more concentrated than the extract and harder to find, too.

    One question for you, Hank. My hubby HATES the taste of both fennel and anise (the aforementioned cookies are for our 6 kids!!). What’s another vegetable that I could substitute for the fennel. And, I can’t use mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant or squash as those are the big problem foods in my home. Thanks!

    No other vegetable substitutes for the flavor of fennel, but you can get a similar texture by substituting an equal amount of onions. ~Hank

  8. erin

    This just looks RIDICULOUSLY good! Would it be a sacrilege to use frozen calamari? I’ve never cooked calamari before so did a scouting mission at the store today after seeing this recipe. The best I could find was a 48oz pkg of frozen whole beasties.
    I’d love to make this for Christmas dinner. Thanks in advance! ~e

    Frozen squid is just fine. That’s what we used. ~Hank

  9. Lane

    Hank, thanks for sharing this one – made this tonight and it turned out surprisingly sweet, which we had mixed feelings about . . . would that be the fennel / Sambuca ? Any ideas on how to de-sweeten it on our next batch?

    Thanks and happy holidays!

    Lane H.

    It’s the sambuca. If you don’t like the sweetness, use a little less. That should do the trick! ~Hank

  10. Abi

    This turned out perfectly. Instead of calamari tentacles I used half calamari steak (sliced thinly) and half octopus tentacles. And I added a handful of sugar at the end which seemed to bring out some more flavors.

  11. Suzette

    Made this over New Year and was a little disappointed, to me it seemed to lack body, the squid was extremely tender, and if anyone has another squid recipe I would love it.

  12. Peggy

    I tried the receipe tonight without the anise flavored liquor. It is great! A very filling dish that goes along way. What a great option for calamari lovers.

  13. Weiwen

    Folks – I have a feeling this would go well with cod. I was thinking of cooking it as normal (less the squid) and adding the cod about 10 minutes from the end. Thoughts?

  14. Helen

    Just made this for tonight’s dinner and it was absolutely delicious. I paired it with pasta which was fine but I think next time, I’ll go with polenta or fresh crusty bread. Thank you!

  15. Wayne

    Our family has Calamari with spaghetti every Christmas eve as part of the 7 fishes tradition. The family recipe uses more onion and no anice although I am sure I’d like it as posted. We also grind the tenticles and add the minced tentacles to the sauce (since everyone does not like the tenticles)

  16. Pablito

    I’ve made a similar dish for years. However, I don’t use onion because I find the onion makes it too sweet, and I use more garlic. I also add some black olives and some Vietnamese fish sauce for salt and to enhance the flavor. To the person who finds the squid too tender – you are cooking it too long!

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