For this Christmas Eve dish, calamari is simmered in a sauce of stewed tomatoes, vinegar, onions, garlic, pepper flakes, and sprinkled with parsley. A simpler version of Feast of the Seven Fishes.
In recent years, I’ve noticed a most troubling trend: disappearing tentacles. It seems many restaurants no longer serve calamari. They serve only calamari rings—typically fried so as to appear like a pile of tiny onion rings. There’s not a tentacle in sight, presumably because they’re a reminder of what one is actually eating. The truth, however, is that the calamari tentacles hold much of the flavor. They also add texture and quite a startling visual appeal. And kids do love them. (I speak from experience.)–Domenica Marchetti
*How to Buy and Store Calamari
The creepy, otherworldly tentacles Domenica mentions above are still commonly available, along with their accompanying sacs, at many seafood counters. To select impeccable calamari, look for white, shiny specimens that look slick and smell like the sea. Store them on ice in your fridge for no more than a day. Although fresh is lovely, frozen squid can sometimes be fresher in the sense that it’s not been sitting around unfrozen for that long and compromises little, if anything, in taste or texture. Simply thaw under cool running water immediately prior to using.
☞ READ THE ARTICLE: CHRISTMAS EVE CALAMARI
Christmas Eve Calamari
- 2 pounds cleaned calamari (fresh or frozen) both sacs and tentacles, washed and thoroughly dried
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion halved and thinly sliced
- 2 large cloves garlic passed through a garlic press
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- Generous pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped oregano leaves
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- One (14 1/2-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 8 slices rustic Italian bread plain or toasted (bruschetta)
- Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut the calamari sacs (bodies) into 1/2-inch-wide rings. Cut each crown of tentacles in half lengthwise to yield bite-size pieces.
- In a large sauté pan with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring from time to time, until softened and translucent, 7 to 8 minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix together the garlic and the salt to form a paste. Add the paste to the onion in the pan and then stir in the red pepper flakes and oregano, mixing everything thoroughly. Add the calamari and stir to combine. Sauté for a minute or two. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the wine, and let the mixture bubble for 2 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and their juices, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and simmer gently until the calamari are tender, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Uncover and continue to simmer gently until the sauce has thickened somewhat, up to 15 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, uncovered, for 2 more minutes. Taste and season with salt if desired. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Spoon the calamari and sauce into shallow bowls and serve with the bruschetta or bread.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I like calamari and I love this recipe! The sauce has a rich seafood flavor, with just the right amount of herbs and spices. The calamari has just the right texture as well.
The recommendation of two large garlic cloves is there to make sure you don’t skimp on it, and that works well for me. To get the sauce to the right consistency, it took about 25 minutes after uncovering, about 10 minutes more than recommended. You’ll appreciate the bread to mop up all of that delicious sauce. Just add a light green salad and a good glass of vino to make for a very satisfying meal.
This tasted fantastic. The calamari had just the right bite, with a bit of heat from the pepper flakes, and a nice depth of flavor.
By the end of the cooking time, the liquid had mostly evaporated. Since the liquid seemed to be evaporating quickly, I kept the lid on fully instead of partially for some of the cooking time, and I turned the heat to low. I’d have liked more tomato, so I’ll add a little extra next time, perhaps using crushed tomatoes or tomato puree in place of stewed tomatoes. This should also help boost the amount of liquid for the sauce.
Overall, the finished dish was worth the effort.
This recipe represents an easy way to prepare calamari. In the future, I’d probably increase the sauce-to-calamari ratio, because while there was some sauciness to sop up with the bread, there wasn’t nearly enough, in my opinion.
For me, the cook time was too long, but luckily the recipe says to use your best judgment, and calls it done when the sauce is reduced. I skipped the last 15 minutes of cooking and at that point the calamari was cooked perfectly and the sauce was nicely reduced.
This is a classic recipe that I absolutely loved.
I did, however, make my own stewed tomatoes instead of using canned ones. I believe a little chopped bacon would’ve given this recipe another edge.
Originally published December 14, 2020