Would it be alright if I confessed a little something?
I had never cooked calamari at home, before last week.
Wait! That is a lie. I have cooked calamari steak before, but I'm talking about the tubes and tentacles of squid.
It was a lucky turn of events when I plucked Mario Batali's Simple Italian Food: Recipes from My Two Villages off of my bookshelf. I could resolve my calamari conundrum, revisit an old, faithful cookbook, and bring you an elegant, yet simple dinner recipe.
I'm a big Mario Batali fan.
His restaurants are pretty much terrific across the board. And his cookbooks have never failed me. Just flipping through them makes me want to cook Italian food for months on end. Simple Italian Food is loaded with gems like Spaghettini with Rock Shrimp, Anaheim Chiles, and Arugula, and Beef Braised in Barolo. His Basic Tomato Sauce is my go-to tomato sauce recipe. The addition of carrot is key.
When I spotted the Shellfish Couscous, "Sicilian Lifeguard" Style recipe, I knew I would have to make it. Unfortunately, at my first inspiration, A. bizarrely wanted something more summery than shellfish couscous. A steak, perhaps.
Ah, well. A.'s ambivalence gave me the opportunity to use my parents and sister as guinea pigs. Getting the car repaired in Santa Monica last week placed me in close proximity to Santa Monica Seafood, so the shellfish couscous was on.
This is a straight-forward recipe, but the results are impressive because of the plethora of seafood. You end up with a soupy bowl of clams, mussels, shrimp, and calamari. The flavorings are classics like leek, garlic, tomato, white wine and parsley. The green olives and copious amount of red pepper flakes provide the twist.
I am a big sucker for couscous. I flat out love it. Certainly the couscous is what initially drew me to this recipe. So, I suppose it isn't surprising that I think the 1/2 cup of couscous in this recipe is not enough.
I don't think thickening up this dish a whole lot is a good idea, because the brothiness is very appealing. I would, however increase the couscous to 3/4 cup, not more.
My other issue with this otherwise delightful dish is the extremely potent flavor of wine. The recipe calls for two cups dry white wine, along with two cups of fish stock or clam juice. That is a lot of wine that only cooks for about six minutes after it is brought to a boil. For three of those minutes the pot is covered. The alcohol doesn't have much of a chance to evaporate.
I love wine, but I prefer a slightly less alcoholic flavor in my food. The solution is to add the wine earlier than the shellfish and to let it reduce a little. After sautéing the leeks and garlic, I would try adding the red pepper flakes, olives, tomatoes, fish stock and wine. Bring this to a boil and let simmer for about five minutes, not more, and then add the clams, mussels, shrimp and couscous. Following the recipe from here shouldn't be a problem.
The calamari cooks for only three minutes. Don't cook it any longer, because those three minutes result in beautifully tender, sweet squid. I won't hesitate to mess around in the kitchen with calamari again. I was really pleased.
This couscous is a great alternative to the seafood pastas and risottos that you may be getting tired of. I served it with an arugula salad and yellow wax beans tossed with chopped mint. No doubt, this was a very good supper.
This recipe serves four. I free-lanced a bit and added a few extra clams, mussels and shrimp. There was quite a bit left. Normally I hesitate to reheat shellfish, but a very quick warming the next night provided an excellent bed for the salmon I roasted.
Shellfish Couscous "Sicilian Lifeguard" Style
1 medium leek, halved lengthwise, cleaned and sliced into 1/4-inch half moons
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
1 cup Sicilian green olives
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
3 large cherrystone clams
8 mussels, de-bearded
8 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup quick-cooking couscous
2 cups fish stock or bottled clam juice
2 cups dry white wine
1 1/4 pounds cleaned calamari, cut into 1/4-inch rings
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
In a large flameproof casserole suitable for serving, sauté the leek and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until very soft, about 8 minutes.
Add the red pepper flakes, olives, tomatoes, clams, mussels, shrimp, and couscous and stir to mix. Add the fish stock and wine, and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 3 minutes over high heat, then remove the cover and stir to mix.
Add the calamari and continue to cook uncovered, stirring often, until the calamari is cooked but still tender, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in the parsley. Discard any clams or mussels that did not open. Pour into a warmed serving dish and serve.