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.


A red bowl with Christmas Eve calamari--calamari, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes in a tomato sauce.

Christmas Eve Calamari

4.86 / 7 votes
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.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories557 kcal
Prep Time45 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 45 minutes


  • 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.

Adapted From

The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 557 kcalCarbohydrates: 33 gProtein: 39 gFat: 28 gSaturated Fat: 10 gMonounsaturated Fat: 11 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 528 mgSodium: 543 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 14 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2006 Domenica Marchetti. Photo © 2006 William Meppem. All rights reserved.

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.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. As the photo shows i changed it up a bit, using intact cherry tomatoes and adding green olives. Was great served with pasta.

    1. Jim Ingles, improvisations are part of the fun of home-cooking. So glad to know yours worked and that you enjoyed the dish!

  2. Made this tonight. Had a pound of frozen Calamari ( body and tentacles) cleaned and ready to use.
    Followed the recipe as written even though I only had 1 pound of calamari. Always add more garlic to my recipes. Served with warm Polenta. Yummy

    1. Thanks, Nancy! It looks like you had a fantastic meal. Thanks for taking the time to let us know.

  3. 5 stars
    Absolutely lovely! I had ordered some frozen calamari to make Linguine allo Scogilo for Christmas Day, 3 lbs is how it came…so I had exactly two pounds to work with. So happy to see your recipe! I substituted 2 tins of tomato sauce, and dried Sicilian oregano, as that is what I had. And we poured it over cheese ravioli…at the request of my 10 year old. This is definitely a hit!

    1. That looks and sounds divine, Mary! We’re so glad you gave this a try and that it turned out so well for you.