Italian seafood salads are among my favorite dishes. I always hoped one would show up on my family’s patio table during a summer barbecue, and often it did, the first thing there. As a kid I was especially crazy about the versions that included scungilli, with its odd musky undertones and chewy texture. I realize many people don’t like scungilli, and you don’t see it around much anymore, even in old-school red sauce joints. Phil Karlin, my fish man at Union Square, carries it, caught right off the North Fork. I’m not sure who aside from me buys it. I also like cold mussel salads with lots of celery and fennel. I’m crazy for hot seared shrimp piled onto a bed of cool greens. And I like calamari salad anyway I can get it.
Classic Italian seafood salads fall into the category of things that are delicious to eat when you’re on a diet but that may have slipped your mind. When I think about it, I realize there exist many such dishes, mainly because much of the Mediterranean diet is intrinsically healthy and low-cal. No tinkering required.
I grew up eating these salads at home and in restaurants. Many of the restaurant versions were terrible, reflecting the worst of Italian-American cooking. Their chief faults, as I see them, were too much dried oregano, too much garlic, overcooked seafood, way too much vinegar, raw green bell peppers or chunks of red onion, all of which overtook the seafood’s delicate flavor. I still find recipes like that on the Internet. Very depressing. A potentially beautiful dish thrown overboard.
But I’m not going back in time, and neither are you. Try this warm version with calamari and chickpeas mixed with greens. I’ve suggested frisée, but any other sturdy early summer green, such as young curly chicory, will do. Arugula and watercress wilt on contact with warm oil, so save them for a different dish.
Happy healthy eating to you.
(Serves 4 as a main course)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups cooked chickpeas, drained and well-dried
2 long red peperoncino chilies, cut into thin rings
2 scallions, thinly sliced, using some of the tender green part
1 teaspoon za’atar Middle Eastern spice mix, plus a bit more for garnish
1½ pounds small calamari, cleaned and cut into rings, the tentacles left whole
2 fresh summer garlic cloves, thinly sliced
The grated zest from 1 lemon, plus about a teaspoon of its juice, or a little more to taste
6 large sprigs thyme, the leaves chopped
6 large marjoram sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
1 medium head frisée lettuce, torn into pieces
Set out a large, nice looking salad bowl.
In a large skillet, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chickpeas, the peperoncino, the scallions, the za’atar, and a little salt. Sauté quickly, just until the chili softens and gives off an aroma and the chickpeas take on a little crunch. Pour into the salad bowl.
Without cleaning out the skillet, add another tablespoon of olive oil, and turn the heat to high. When really hot, add the calamari, the garlic, the lemon zest, and a little salt. Sear the calamari quickly, just until it’s opaque and tender. Add the thyme, and stir it in. Add all this to the salad bowl.
Add the frisée and the marjoram to the salad.
Drizzle on about a tablespoon of fresh olive oil and the lemon juice. Season with a bit more salt, and toss. Sprinkle with a little extra za’atar. Serve right away.