"When I come to reflect on the subject, in no country have I received such honours or been so esteemed as in Italy, and nothing contributes more to a man's fame than to have written Italian operas, and especially for Naples."
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
For my birthday, my friend the ever-bellissima Manu, who has founded a small business called Pasta Diva importing artisan pasta and sauces from Sicily into the UK, gave me a box of their “Tosca” pasta and sauce collections. This included a packet of calamarata pasta, one I had not previously heard of. Although the full range of Pasta Diva pasta is produced from the ancient grains of Sicily, it turns out that a classic Neapolitan dish featuring this pasta also features calamari. Indeed it is the squid-ring shape of the pasta that brought about its name.
Aside from the obvious two ingredients the recipe Manu suggested I use (by Tavolartegusto) as guidance only otherwise required cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, white wine and parsley – a seriously simple and tasty seafoodie pasta dish! It's best made with smaller squid which are roughly the same diameter as the pasta itself. One of the appeals of this dish is almost not knowing which type ring you've scooped up with your spoon or fork.
I should say that I normally associate squid's availability in the farmers' market with winter months, December and January in particular. But for some reason it has been making the occasional appearance of late so I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity.
As a dish I can easily see this as a starter, a pasta/fish course or a main if served in the appropriate quantities.
This dish benefits more than most for the pasta to be served al dente. The reason for this is that the al dente calamarata takes on a texture really quite similar to that of the gently braised squid.
Most recipes I have researched seem not to include the tentacles of the squid. I suspect this is more to do with the aesthetics of the dish than anything else. Of course you can omit them, but truth be told they're probably my favourite part of the beast so, for me, they have to go in.
If using the dried chilli flakes (a must as far as I'm concerned) pepper may not be required, but we all know that pasta is reliably served with an offering of freshly ground black pepper at the table, frequently from an oversized mill! Just leave the Parmesan alone on this occasion.
Ingredients (Serves 2 as a small main course)
300g small squid, cleaned and cut into 1½ cm thick rings, tentacles halved lengthways
150g calamarata pasta
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra
1 large garlic clove, peeled and gently bashed
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
Pinch of dried chilli flakes, optional or quantity to taste
60ml dry white wine
3-4 tsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the olive oil and garlic clove in a sauté pan or wide saucepan and gently sweat the garlic for 1 min. Add the cherry tomatoes, dried chilli flakes (if using) and 1 tsp of the parsley, cover the pan and cook gently for 2 mins.
Raise the heat to high, add the squid rings and cook for 1 min. Pour in the wine, bring to the boil then cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Cook gently for 10 mins. Turn out the heat, season with salt (and pepper if liked) then remove the cherry tomatoes, and put the cover back on the pan.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta for half the time indicated on the packet. Drain the pasta well then tip it into the pan containing the squid. Add another 1 tsp of parsley and a drizzle of olive oil then return the pan to the heat and cook very gently for 4-5 mins until the sauce has more or less been absorbed and what remains is quite creamy in consistency.
Return the cherry tomatoes to the pan, warm them for 1 min, check the seasoning, then serve straight away garnished with the remaining chopped parsley.