Every spring, as the temperatures start to feel a little more like summer, I crave seafood. In fact, it’s one of my favorite times of the year, as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc start to return to my table and a seemingly unending selection of fresh mussels, clams, prawns, scallops—and of course, calamari—call to me, while I’m perusing my local market.
Usually, it’s the simplest recipes that do the trick, and I find that turning to traditional Italian preparations always provides something special that my family will enjoy. Frankly, it’s amazing how different traditional Italian food is from what most Americans grew up to believe it to be. The Sunday sauces and everything parmigiana are a far stretch from what you find throughout Italy. From north to south, the cuisine of Italia changes just as much as its geography, traditions and wines.
However, for the most part, one thing remains the same, is that the cuisine is based on simple recipes made great through the quality of the ingredients and the deft, passionate hand of the person who is making the dish. Calamari in Zimino is a perfect example of this.
Calamari in Zimino is seafood stew made from a short-list of ingredients and prepared so simply that you’ll almost feel like you’re cheating. However, sourcing the best ingredients will make the difference between making this good and making it great. The most important part of this dish is the calamari itself, which needs to be as fresh as possible because it’s the flavor of the squid that makes this dish utterly amazing.
Framing the flavor of the calamari is the Swiss chard, which lends a sweet buttery flavor, and the onions, tomatoes and celery, which literally dissolve in the cooking process and become part of the broth. Can you tell I’m in love? It’s because of preparations as flavorful, yet simple as this, that I became so enamored with Italian cuisine.
I would suggest serving this with slices of toasted baguette brushed with a hint of olive oil, because as you’ll quickly come to realize, the broth is delectable and each of your guests will want to make sure that it has been completely sopped up.
As for a wine pairing, Riesling is a fantastic choice. You can go with an Italian white, such as Verdicchio or Vermentino, but recently I’ve found that a dry Riesling with that core of vibrant minerality, is the perfect complement this this dish. My recommendation is the 2013 Weingut Keller Riesling von der Fels. (Morrell)
Calamari in Zimino
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped fine (or 12 oz of canned San Marzano tomatoes without juice)
2 oz extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, fine dice
1 celery stalk, fibrous portion peeled and cut into a fine dice
salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 ½ lbs Swiss chard, washed and sliced into 1-inch stripes
1 lb squid, cleaned and sliced into ½-inch rings
1 tbls parsley, minced for garnish
Here’s a simple trick I use to peel tomatoes. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a bowl with ice water. With a sharp knife, slice an “X” into the bottom of the tomato. (Be careful not to cut deep into the tomato; just pierce the skin). Drop the tomato into the boiling water for 45 seconds. Immediately remove from the boiling water and place it into the ice bath for another two minutes. When you pull the tomato from the ice bath, the skin should literally peel right off. For this recipe, you should now slice the tomato and remove the seeds. Once removed, cut the tomato into a fine dice.
Pour the olive oil into a large pan over medium heat and bring up to cooking temperature. Add the onions and celery with a generous pinch of salt and allow to sweat, in the pan, for 5 minutes. Add the tomato, Swiss chard, another pinch of salt and cracked fresh pepper. Cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes and return to the pot to stir, making sure to mix all ingredients together well. Cover the pot again and allow to cook for another 25 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the heat up to medium and add the squid. Allow to cook uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and
Plate onto warmed plates by spooning a mound of the stew in the center of the plate with a generous amount of broth around it. Sprinkle with parsley, clean the rims of the plates and serve.