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Women with Fish

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I am not jealous
of what came before me.

Come with a man
on your shoulders,
come with a hundred men in your hair,
come with a thousand men between your breasts and your feet,
come like a river full of drowned men
which flows down to the wild sea,
to the eternal surf, to Time!

Bring them all
to where I am waiting for you;
we shall always be alone,
we shall always be you and I alone on earth
to start our life!

 

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Still Life with Sardines, by Abad.

Recipe below: Bucatini con le Sarde a Mare

There used to be Sicilian restaurant called Siracusa in downtown Manhattan that closed about ten years ago, and I still think about its ricotta gelato and the escarole torta. They also made a traditional pasta con le sarde (a waiter once told me the chef talked to the fish). It was the only place in town I could get it, and there were times back then when I really needed it, as I still do now. It was put together with devotion, all the flavors—saffron, fennel, raisins, pine nuts—in place. The purveyors even managed to track down wild fennel. Some nights the dish was great, some good, others not so good. It all depended on the freshness of the sardines.

There are only a handful of eating places in New York now that advertise themselves as Sicilian. Cacio e Vino in the East Village is one. They make a great caponata served with panelle, the fried chickpea pancakes that are traditional to the  island. I also love their pasta with cuttlefish ink, with its shiny, slick look. When a recent craving for pasta con le sarde hit me,  I went back to this cozy place and ordered a bowl. In fact, I went back three times in two weeks to taste it. They know what they’re doing, even down to the scattering of breadcrumbs and the al dente bucatini. On my first try the sardines were quite fresh, and all the flavors came together in a sweet and savory way. I could taste the saffron, an expensive touch restaurants often leave out. Another time the same dish had a fishy, oily taste, probably the difference between just delivered and day-old (or two-day-old) sardines. That’s the fragility of these little fish.

Many food people will tell you that you can’t transport authenticity. I don’t find that to be true in New York. With the ingredients we have access to, and a dedicated, often native-born chef, I’ve had dishes that were almost identical in taste, and certainly in spirit, to ones I’d had in Italy. But I’ve found that New York’s sardines can make or break a dish. I see them all the time now in my markets, but they’re never as fresh as what I’ve had in Palermo. The oil-packed fish goes off quickly, so if you don’t catch its freshness fast, it’s not going to sing to you. It quickly turns to garbage. The sardines I see in my markets either come from Portugal or are brought down from Rhode Island (that’s what the fish sellers tell me, so I believe them). So these fish have already been on some journey by the time they reach the market, and it’s hard to say what class they traveled. It could have been coach, or even steerage. What I do now is call my fish shop and ask when the sardines will arrive (at Citarella it’s often Thursday). That way I can at least get them at their best.

When I have a need to cook up a batch of pasta con le sarde but my market says to wait for a better opportunity, I turn to Bucatini con le Sarde a Mare, where the sardines are left in the sea. It’s a real cucina povera dish and a good one. It has all the flavors of pasta con sarde, but with one big ingredient missing. Here’s my version of this traditional pasta. In the past I always made it with salt-packed anchovies, for a fresher feel, but now I prefer good quality oil-packed ones. Their flavor is deeper and muskier, a taste that I now feel blends better with all the exotic Spanish-Arab flavorings the dish has going.

Bucatini con le Sarde a Mare

(Serves 3 as a first course)

Extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup homemade breadcrumbs, not too finely ground
Salt
½ teaspoon sugar
¾ pound bucatini
1 large Vidalia onion, cut into small dice
1 medium fennel bulb, cut into small dice, plus its fronds, lightly chopped (find one with a lot of fronds, if you can)
½ teaspoon fennel pollen
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
12 good quality oil-packed anchovies, roughly chopped (I like Agostino Recco)
⅓ cup golden raisins, soaked in ⅓ cup dry vermouth
A big pinch of saffron, dried, ground, and soaked in about ¼ cup hot water
⅓ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Coarsely ground black pepper
About 5 or 6 large dill sprigs, chopped

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add the breadcrumbs, and sauté until just turning golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Add salt and the sugar, and stir it in. Pour the crumbs into a small bowl, and set aside.

Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil. Add a good amount of salt, and drop in the bucatini.

Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and the fennel, and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the fennel pollen and the garlic, and sauté a minute longer.

Add the chopped anchovies, stirring them around to warm through.

Add the raisins with their soaking liquid, the saffron water, and the pine nuts. Season with black pepper and a little salt.

When the bucatini is al dente, drain it, saving about a cup of the cooking water, and place it in a warmed pasta bowl.

Add the anchovy sauce along with about 2 tablespoons of fresh olive oil. Add the fennel fronds and dill. Grind in a bit more black pepper, and give it all a toss, adding enough cooking water to help form a light sauce that coats the strands of pasta lightly. Serve right away, with a generous sprinkling of breadcrumbs on top of each serving.

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Shopping for Food

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Recipe below: Penne with Peas, Ricotta, Pancetta, and Mint

I often shop for food at Westside Market, mainly because it’s two blocks from my Manhattan apartment. It’s no gourmet store, but they have decent pasta, an okay cheese department, and good produce. Their broccoli rabe and escarole is consistently crisp and deep green. I almost always throw one or the other into my cart, along with fresh herbs like basil, flat leaf parsley, or marjoram. I grab an Arthur Avenue mozzarella. Anyone spying my cart will probably guess that I’ll be cooking something Italianish.

Spying into other people’s shopping carts is a pastime of mine. It started out as a search for like-minded shoppers, with carts full of, say, cavatelli, sweet peppers, chicory, soppressata, and other obviously Italian stuff. But it slowly branched out, becoming a preoccupation that led me to observe all types of shoppers. I’ve witnessed many eccentric, disgusting, seemingly haphazard, or just hard-to-pin-down food choices over the years.

In the last two weeks I’ve zeroed in on a few interesting carts. I saw a chignoned elderly woman pick up two packages of sliced American cheese, a tub of crème fraîche, a wedge of Roquefort, a very large chunk of Swiss, an over-the-hill piece of brie, four packages of various crackers—one was Triscuits, one an Italian flatbread flavored with rosemary—chicken livers, chicken sausages with parmigian, chicken legs, chicken thighs, chicken cutlets, chicken wings. What was driving her pursuit of all this chicken and cheese? At this point I’m assuming she lives alone. Who would put up with a diet like this? And the big-bellied guy with a cart filled with bags of lemons, limes, and oranges, well, he’s, I don’t know, maybe a bartender? Then last week there was Sally Field at checkout. I thought I knew all the celebs in the neighborhood. I had no idea she was so petite. But she looks just like she did in The Flying Nun, only drier. I wish I’d seen what was in her cart. Looked like red leaf lettuce sticking out of her shopping bag, but that didn’t tell me much. What a missed opportunity.

And there’s that frozen food man again, with his polished bald head, handsome Roman profile, and weirdly long shoes. His looks are captivating, but what’s in his shopping cart interested me more. I’ve noticed that most people who buy a lot of frozen stuff are usually going for full meals, such as Amy’s Tamale Verde or Chicken Tikka Masala (I’ve never tried those, but people buy them). But my frozen food man only buys individually packaged items like frozen peas (so many people go for them), corn kernels, broccoli, and pearl onions (the only use I know for them is in boeuf bourguignon), and this week, frozen artichoke hearts (I never knew they even existed), frozen pizza dough, and frozen bake-your-own baguettes. What does this mean? I guess it means that the man is cooking, not just heating things up. But, where’s the meat?  And if he’s actually preparing meals, why not buy fresh vegetables? I’m thinking since he shops so often and always buys frozen, possibly he’s a hoarder. But how can anyone keep all that stuff in a city-size freezer?

Yesterday I went to Westside Market and wandered around in a daze, with a blank head, trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I was hoping to find an Italian food shopper to inspire me (like the woman I saw a few days back with all the prosciutto and cremini mushrooms), but the only people who held my interest, and not in a positive way, were two possibly Parsons Design students, one with a half shaved head, vegans I’m assuming, dropping depressing stuff into their hand basket: two tubs of very compact looking hummus (since when is hummus bright red?), lentil veggie patties, shrink-wrapped falafel, a few bags of those gummy fish things, organic potato chips with sea salt, and packages of precut carrot sticks, beet chunks, cauliflower florets, diced onion, all looking lifeless (who the hell buys precut onion?). What a bring-down that was.

I still didn’t have a clue about dinner, but I thought about the handsome bald hoarder and decided to grab a bag of frozen peas. I hadn’t used them in a while. In February, they’re not a bad choice. And then the peas got me thinking about a pasta dish from my childhood. My mother often made penne with frozen peas, prosciutto, and cream. She called it “Northern-style,” I guess because of the cream and lack of tomatoes. So with that flavor memory in mind, I decided to do a variation on the theme. I marched through the aisles with new purpose, picking up whole milk ricotta, a chunk of pancetta, a few lemons, an onion (a whole one, with the skin on it), a bunch of nice looking mint, a wedge of so so caciocavallo, a few bottles of seltzer, a bag of penne, a Lindt almond chocolate bar, a fresh bottle of California Olive Ranch olive oil (my current favorite), and, of course, my frozen peas. I wonder if anyone was looking at my cart and thinking, what is she making for dinner?

Penne with Peas, Ricotta, Pancetta, and Mint

(Serves 3)

Salt
A heaping cup of whole milk ricotta
A drizzle of cream
About ¼ cup grated caciocavallo cheese
The grated zest from 1 small lemon
A few big gratings of nutmeg
Coarsely ground black pepper
¾ pound penne
Extra-virgin olive oil
¼ pound pancetta, cut into small cubes (buy it in one thick chunk, not slices, so you can cut in into cubes)
1 small onion, diced
A cup or so of frozen peas, thawed
A big splash of dry vermouth
½ cup chicken broth
5 large sprigs fresh mint, leaves lightly chopped

Fill a pasta pot with water, and bring it to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt.

While the water is heating, warm a pasta bowl, and add the ricotta, the drizzle of cream, the caciocavallo, lemon zest, a few generous scrapings of nutmeg, a good amount of coarsely ground black pepper, and a little salt. Give it all a mix.

Drop the penne into the water.

In a large sauté pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and sauté until crisp. Add the onion, and let it soften, about 2 minutes. Add the peas, and give them a stir. Add the splash of vermouth, and let it boil away. Add the chicken broth, and simmer until the peas are tender, about another 2 minutes. You should have some liquid left in the pan.

When the penne is al dente, drain it, saving about ½ cup of the cooking water.

Add the penne to the ricotta bowl. Now pour on the peas and pancetta mixture, with all its pan liquid. Add the mint and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and give everything a toss, adding a little pasta cooking water if you need it to form a creamy sauce. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Serve right away.

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Women with Fish

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My niece Maria has a complicated relationship with God.

 

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My Sicilian Grandfather

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Recipe below: Fusilli with Swordfish, Eggplant, and Almonds

I’ve seen only one photo of Errico, my Sicilian grandfather, taken somewhere in Westchester I believe. If others exist, I wouldn’t know where to look for them. Errico, later Eric, who I’m named for, is a person I know little about. My mother and her sister never talk about him unless prodded, and even then I never get much. My aunt Pat, when I recently asked, referred to him as a “bandito.” That was the first time I heard that word used for him. I’d previously heard him described as a tap dancer, a pastry chef (he baked cassata for my mother’s birthdays), a bookie, or all three. My father mentioned that Errico had been in prison at some point. Once my mother had come home from school to find that police had ripped the phone from the wall (I learned this from my Dad, not from her). Aunt Pat said “he was involved in various things, on a low level.” He has no gravestone. I know because I looked.

That photo, which has somehow now disappeared, showed a young man, maybe mid-thirties, prominent nose, brown eyes, lanky build, dark skinned like a North African, and prematurely bald. He is standing to the side of a group of people I don’t recognize. He’s not smiling. I wonder if he knew then that he didn’t have many years left. My grandfather died in his forties. His wife, my grandmother, followed not long after. My mother and her sister lost their parents early, which is terrible. But they also, for some mysterious reason, decided to cut ties with their father’s family, a group that included, I believe, eight siblings. I recently learned that my great grandfather, Eric’s father, lived into the late 1970s, and not far from us. I can’t begin to understand this complete blackout. I know almost nothing about my Sicilian background. I sometimes let myself think about the ifs. If Errico had lived a long life, maybe, just maybe, I could have heard stories, cooked with him. My mother says he made spaghetti with lobster, and ravioli filled with ricotta and cinnamon, on Christmas Eve. Are you kidding me, and I missed this? If only my mother or aunt or someone had kept a door open, a phone call now and then, Christmas cards, I would have a more intimate connection to the island I’ve grown to love. But unfortunately it’s a place that remains almost as much a mystery as my mother’s ghostly family.

Tracing my grandfather’s roots has led nowhere. The more I grill my mother the pissier she gets, and I’ve been at her for forty years. I’m now at peace with this, kind of. I keep looking, no longer with names of distant relatives or clues to an ancestral town but with the island’s intricate food, which has a pull on me like no other. When I cook caponata or pasta con le sarde I see my grandfather’s Moorish good looks staring back at me. And I sometimes even feel his hand guiding me in the kitchen. I have no idea what his voice sounded like. A New York accent tinged with an Italian cadence, I assume. I think about that from time to time.

My extensive research into Sicilian cooking has revealed many alluring but at first thought and sometimes first taste odd flavor combinations. Sardines with fennel, anchovies, raisins, pine nuts, and saffron; sweet pastry flavored with cinnamon encasing a savory filling of lamb and pecorino; pumpkin with honey, vinegar, and mint. Eggplant and swordfish first struck me as an odd couple, but it makes perfect sense to Sicilians. It’s natural that cooks on the island would find a way to bring together two of its most traditional foods, and pasta is the perfect medium for softening the blow of those two seemingly dissonant ingredients landing on the same plate. I think the dish works beautifully. I’ve added almonds, another classic Sicilian product, one of many brought to the island by the Arabs. If you’ve never tasted the almonds grown in Noto, in southeastern Sicily, you really need to. I’ve always wondered why no almond I ever knew tasted like almond extract. Well, now I know it’s possible. (If you’re interested in tasting these extraordinary almonds, you can order them from www.gustiamo.com, as I did for this pasta.)

I make variations on this swordfish and eggplant theme often, and I’ve grown to love it. While cooking this particular version I fantasized about having a conversation with Errico, asking what he thought of the eggplant I chose, the texture of the fish. Is there enough sauce, too much? Does it taste real? Maybe he would have left out the mint, and just gone with basil alone. I’ll never know.

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Fusilli with Swordfish, Eggplant, and Almonds

(Serves 4 to 6)

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, cut into small dice
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, cut into cubes, partially skinned
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Salt
5 allspice berries, crushed to a powder
Black pepper
About 20 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 splashes of red vermouth
1 pound fusilli
1 pound swordfish, skinned and cut into cubes
A big pinch of sugar
About 5 large sprigs of mint, lightly chopped
About a dozen basil leaves, lightly chopped
A handful of blanched almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil.

In a large sauté pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the eggplant and the shallot, and sauté until the eggplant starts to soften, stirring it every so often, for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, season with salt, allspice, and black pepper, and continue cooking until the eggplant is lightly browned and just tender, about another 4 minutes.

Add the cherry tomatoes, and sauté until they just start to give off juice, about 4 minutes longer. Add a splash of vermouth, and let it bubble for a few second. Turn off the heat.

Add a generous amount of salt to the pasta water, and drop in the fusilli.

In a smaller sauté pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. Season the swordfish with salt and the sugar. Add the swordfish to the smaller pan, and cook quickly, just until tender, about 3 minutes or so. Add a splash of vermouth, and let it bubble a few seconds. Add the swordfish to the eggplant, and give it a stir.

When the fusilli is al dente, pour it into a large serving bowl, saving about ½ cup of the cooking water. Add a generous drizzle of fresh olive oil, the mint, and the basil, and toss quickly. Add the swordfish sauce and enough pasta cooking water to allow the sauce to lightly coat the pasta. Toss again, tasting for seasoning. Garnish with the toasted almonds.

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Carciofi alla Romana

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Recipe below: Carciofi alla Romana

An artichoke’s taste is deeply vegetal and slightly bitter with a final burst of sweetness that to me tastes a bit like Splenda. The sweetness can be startling, especially if you enhance it with a sip of wine. And the texture varies depending on where you’re at. The tender outer leaves are slippery, the stem sturdier with a touch of fiber, and the heart a creamy gift, nature’s paté.

Carciofi alla Romana is a dish of tender, braised artichokes, usually paired down to stem and heart, flavored with mentuccia, a kind of wild mint. It’s the second most famous artichoke dish in Rome (the first being carciofi alla giudia, with big fried ones that look like crisped-up sunflowers). Mentuccia is a type of calamint used in Lazio and in Southern Italy with artichokes and mushrooms in particular. It’s also great with cecis and white beans. I grew mentuccia this summer ,and it took off like crazy in its little pot. I can’t imagine finding it in New York during the winter, but I’ve discovered that more or less equal parts spearmint and marjoram, though not an exact replica, get to the spirit of thing.

Preparing artichokes has frequently been a fraught experience for me. The globe variety we have here is similar to what Romans use for this preparation (the Romanesco type is rounder and usually left with a longer stem). Any big, fat artichoke involves a lot of whittling away to get it fork-ready and to my thinking produces a ton of waste. When I dump a pile of leaves and trimmings into the garbage I get a guilty feeling that makes all my pulling and scraping seem wanton. To avoid that angst and labor, I look for the baby ones. They’re a cinch to clean, no chokes, and hardly any tough leaves. These babies are actually stunted globes that happen to be lower on the stalk and don’t get as much sun, so they stop growing before developing much that’s inedible. They’re an agricultural shortcut.

I’ve just started finding good looking California artichokes, both big and baby, in my markets.They seem about a month early—strange, but I’m not complaining. If you’ve never made Carfiofi alla Romana, you should give it a try. The reduced braising liquid, a mix of the artichoke juices, olive oil, garlic, wine, and the mint, offers a unique taste, like tamed earth. I like the dish best just slightly warm, or at room temperature. Try serving it alone as a first course, followed by pan-seared lamb chops, perhaps. But it’s also excellent as part of an antipasto offering.

Carciofi alla Romana

(Serves 4)

The juice from 2 lemons
About 15 baby artichokes
10 large sprigs spearmint
10 large sprigs marjoram
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
A glass of Frascati or another light, unoaked white wine
Coarse black pepper

Pour the lemon juice into a large bowl, saving about a tablespoon of it to use later. Fill the bowl with cold water.

Cut about a half inch off the tops of the artichokes. Pull off a few layers of tough, outer leaves, and then peel and trim the stem. Discard the trimmings, and drop each trimmed artichoke, as you finish working with it, into the lemon water, to stop oxidation.

Put the mint, marjoram, garlic, a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and a touch of salt in a food processor, and pulse until the herbs are nicely minced.

Drain the artichokes and dry them as best you can.

Stuff a little of the herb mixture between the leaves of each artichoke.

Get out a large, heavy bottomed pan that will hold all the artichokes (cast iron or enamel will both work well). Add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil ,and get it hot over medium heat. Add the artichokes, seasoning them with a little salt, and sauté, turning them in the oil, until fragrant and glistening, about 3 minutes or so. Add the wine, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Add about ⅓ cup of warm water. Cover the pan, and let the artichokes braise, turning them every so often, until they’re just fork tender. This should take about 20 minutes, depending on the size of your artichokes. Uncover the pan in the last few minutes of cooking to reduce the liquids. You should have just enough moisture to form a light glaze on the artichokes. Season with a drizzle of fresh olive oil, coarse black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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W13th-113-SpainRestaurant-2.jpgSpain restaurant, on West 13th Street, opened in 1966 and still going strong.

Recipe below: Calamari Filled with Pine Nuts and Raisins, in a Saffron White Wine Sauce

I just finished reading a book called Grape Olive Pig, by Matt Goulding, a memoir of his intimate (he married a Catalunyan) and culinary experiences in Spain and also a history of the country’s diverse regions, focusing on the land, the sea, the oppression, the creativity, and how the Spanish people produced their passionate culture, one I’m in awe of.

Somehow this fine book got me thinking about how lucky I was to grow up in New York, exposed to so many different cultures, tasting an amazing variety of food at a young age. Aside from enjoying the Southern Italian dishes that emerged from our own kitchen, we often went out to eat Greek, Romanian, Vietnamese, Moroccan, Jewish dairy (not too many of those places left), Scandinavian, German, Soul Food, Turkish. My first boyfriend came from a Russian Orthodox family. His mother’s stuffed cabbage, bathed in an ivory colored cream sauce, seemed so exotic. I can still recall the sweet bitter flavor (dill, I’m thinking), and the angular beauty of my boyfriend’s mom as she brought it and other fascinating dishes to the table, such as a boozy homemade cherry preserve that drove me wild.

My Irish Grandmother worked as a waitress in a Syrian restaurant, and my Sicilian grandfather supplied that restaurant with grape leaves they used for stuffing. He grew wine grapes in their tiny backyard and had plenty of sturdy leaves to spare.  This restaurant was called Nader’s and was run by Ralph Nader’s parents. They were into food. The son, not so much, but he certainly was, and still is, passionate about other things. When I first started working in restaurants myself, my first chef had me making French blood sausage and animelles—beef testicles—flaming in cognac. (He also had me skinning rabbits, which was horrifying.) At another restaurant I learned how to cook Northern Italian food, which, as a granddaughter of the Mezzogiorno, I found as foreign as the cooking of Mongolia.

After reading Grape Olive Pig, I’ve had Spanish flavors swirling around my brain. There’s a Spanish restaurant in Chelsea a few blocks from my apartment that serves a squid ink paella that was completely new to me. It’s nothing more than a thin layer of crisp-bottomed, black-tinted rice with tender squid rings baked on top. It’s absolutely addictive. The place is called Socarrat, a word for the crunchy baked-on rice at the bottom of a paella pan. The Spanish actually have a word for that. Amazing. Socarrat is a far cry from the gummy-paella-and-over-sugared-Sangria places I frequented as a kid. A few of those places still exist downtown. I have a deep nostalgia for them, and I still stop in every so often. The food is exactly the same, frozen in time.

So right now I want to cook with saffron, pimenton de La Vera, piment d’Espelette, crustaceans, cephalopods, and pork fat. I ate a tenderly cooked stuffed squid dish about two dozen years ago at a Basque-inspired restaurant near the United Nations. I recall that it contained raisins and pine nuts, and its oily, winey sauce was tinted orange from saffron. I find it difficult to duplicate a dish after so many years, but I nonetheless like to try, as a kind of puzzle to solve. So here’s my interpretation of that memorable dish. I’ve added basil, which, I’m sure wasn’t in the original, but I like basil with saffron (I can’t recall any herb; maybe there was parsley). My version is not exact, but it’s close, and it tastes good, and, most important, it’s spiritually real.

Calamari Filled with Pine Nuts and Raisins, in a Saffron White Wine Sauce

(Serves 4)

2 pounds squid, on the small side, cleaned, with the tentacles
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 scallions, finely chopped, using a little of the tender green part
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
⅓ cup pine nuts
⅓ cup yellow raisins, soaked in ¼ cup dry white wine
¾ cup homemade breadcrumbs, not too finely ground
1 heaping tablespoon grated, young manchego cheese
1 jumbo egg, lightly beaten
Salt
Piment d’Espelette, to taste
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
About 8 basil leaves, chopped, plus a few nice looking smaller ones for garnish
½ cup light fish broth or chicken broth (I prefer chicken broth here)
A big pinch of saffron threads, dried over a low heat if moist and then finely ground
½ cup dry white wine

Chop the squid tentacles finely. You’ll need about ¾ cup.

In a medium sauté pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the tentacles, scallion, garlic, and pine nuts, and sauté until the squid is just cooked through and the pine nuts are starting to turn golden, about a minute. Add the raisins with their soaking wine, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Turn off the heat, and take the pan off the burner. Add the breadcrumbs, the manchego, and the egg, and season with salt, piment, cinnamon, and the basil. Drizzle in a little fresh olive oil, and give it all a quick mix.

Add the saffron to the broth, and give it a stir so it starts to dissolve.

Dry off the squid bodies, and fill them about ¾ high with the stuffing, trying not to pack it in too densely. Close up the openings with toothpicks.

In a large sauté pan that’ll hold all the squid without crowding, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Season the squid with a little salt, and lay it in the pan. Sauté, turning the pieces once, until they’ve lost their transparent look and hopefully taken on a little color, about 2 minutes (sometimes it’s hard to get any browning on sautéed squid; don’t worry too much about that). Now add the white wine and the saffron broth. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer, turning occasionally, until the squid is tender, about ½ hour.

Remove the toothpicks, and slice the squid into thick rings, laying it out on four dinner plates (you can also leave the pieces whole, if you prefer). Distribute the pan sauce over the servings, and garnish with basil leaves and a sprinkling of piment. I served this with crusty country bread and followed it with an escarole salad.

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