Recipe: Calamari and Shrimp Salad with Celery and Fennel
La Saraghina haunts my dreams, Fellini’s wild mistress of the Adriatic, tormentor of young boys, clumsy enticing dancer. I see her pumping that Tasmanian devil body on the sand, her dark smudged eyes rolling around in her flat face, black hair matted and sticking up straight in the hazy sun. Barefooted Saraghina, the sardine lady, so named because she traded her favors for sardines. Wilma Flintstone stole her wardrobe. I hear the music she dances to so clearly. She’s not a lady of many words (she’s actually of no words in 8½), but recently, I suppose because I had been thinking about her so hard, she spoke to me. Just a husky muttering, but the voice was unmistakable. She said, “I miss the sea. I want to taste the sea.”
I feel for Saraghina, long gone, even lonelier than she was in her outcast life, lived in an abandoned concrete gun casemate on the beach, where the smallest distraction, a flock of seagulls, a group of little boys throwing coins, provoked her to sway to the music. I would say she made the best of a bad situation, and because of that I loved her. I’ve always wanted to repay her for being such a positive influence on my younger life.
When I first watched 8½, back in high school, I think at the old Elgin Theater at Eighth Avenue and 19th Street (bums admitted free in the afternoon), every minute riveted me, but when Saraghina came on the screen her ugliness was a shock, and her shimmy was self-righteous. She made me want to dance boldly. And I did, quite frequently. My mother called it “showing off.”
Years went by, and at times it’s been hard to conjure that same spirit of unbridled fun. So it makes me happy now to close my eyes and summon up an image of Saraghina, until I can see her fat form clearly. And on the occasions she speaks (this has happened only a few times), I do what she says. Saraghina, this recipe’s for you.
Calamari and Shrimp Salad with Celery and Fennel
(Serves 4 or 5 as a first course)
1 fresh bay leaf
1 small fennel bulb, cut into small cubes
2 tender inner celery stalks, thinly sliced, plus a handful of celery leaves
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1½ pounds small calamari, cleaned and cut into rings, the tentacles left whole
2 scallions, thinly sliced, using some of the tender green part
5 sprigs of thyme, the leaves chopped
A small handful of chervil sprigs
1 garlic clove, very thinly sliced
The juice from 1 small lemon
Extra-virgin olive oil, the best you’ve got
A few drops of Sambuca
Freshly ground black pepper
Set up a large pot of water. Add the bay leaf and a generous amount of salt. Bring to a boil, and throw in the fennel and celery. Blanch for a minute, and then scoop the vegetables out with a strainer spoon into a colander (this not only softens them but also seasons the water for the seafood to come). Run cold water over the fennel and celery to stop their cooking and to bring up their green color. Drain, and then spread them onto paper towels.
Add the shrimp to the pot, and boil just until pink and tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop them from the water, and lay them out on paper towels to soak up any remaining water.
Add the calamari, and boil for about a minute. Scoop the calamari from the water, and lay it out on paper towels.
When the vegetables and seafood are all more or less at room temperature, place them in a shallow serving bowl. Add the scallion, the thyme, the chervil, and the celery leaves.
In a small bowl whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, about 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or a little more), and the Sambuca (very little, a few drops only for good flavor; too much will make the dish bitter). Season with salt and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad, and toss gently with your fingers. Taste for seasoning, adding more black pepper or a bit more olive oil if needed, to coat everything with a good glisten. Serve right away.