Calamari Stewed with Tomatoes

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Calamari (squid) slow cooked in tomato sauce with onion, fennel, garlic, red wine, and parsley.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Stewed Calamari

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

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  • 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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

1 Sauté onions, fennel, garlic: 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.

4 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.

5 Season to taste with salt and pepper: 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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Hank Shaw

A former restaurant cook and journalist, Hank Shaw is the author of three wild game cookbooks as well as the James Beard Award-winning wild foods website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. His latest cookbook is Buck, Buck, Moose, a guide to working with venison. He hunts, fishes, forages and cooks near Sacramento, CA.

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Showing 4 of 17 Comments

  • Lucinda

    This was delicious – so easy and quick to prepare. I served the tentacles as an appetiser with some lemon. Yum.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

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