Cuttlefish over Spaghetti with a Tomato – Olive sauce
When I first moved to Italy at the age of 16 I wouldn’t have dared put one of these gelatinous looking creatures in my mouth, at that age the fishiest thing I would eat was either breaded and fried or found in a can. I can’t really remember the first time that I had them, but only recently dared to try to cook them. I grew up in land-locked Atlanta, GA and for years was intimidated of putting fish to fire. Even though Roman cuisine is more focused on strange parts of the animal (intenstines, hearts, etc.), the fish markets in Rome, even at my local grocery store, are wonderful and have fresh fish every Tuesday and Friday. Most of the fish is fairly local or at least Italian, making it easy to avoid the fish shipped in from Oman or Brazil.
I’d always heard that cuttlefish and squid could either be flash cooked or had to be cooked for a ridiculous amount of time. Those rules, like many rules in cooking, scared me. I figured that over pasta and with enough san marzano tomatoes I would have a lot of room for error and I was right.
Cuttlefish over Spaghetti with a Tomato-Olive Sauce
Cooking time: about an hour
• 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves of garlic. Peeled
• 3/4 pound cleaned cuttlefish (seppie), cut into 1/2 inch slices
• 1 abundant cup of dry white wine (it is easy to find cheap wine in Italy which is great for cooking, look for the cheapest drinkable wine you can find)
• 14 oz. can of whole san marzano tomatoes
• 1/2 cup of brine cured gaeta olives, pitted (any black olive would be fine, but the gaeta olives have the right saltiness for this dish)
• 1/2 lb of spaghetti
• small handful of salt for pasta water
Heat oil in a deep skillet or a wide saucepan over medium heat and add whole cloves of garlic. When the garlic starts to simmer, add cuttlefish, stir to absorb the oil and then add the white wine. You want the cuttlefish to be covered in white wine. Let the cuttlefish simmer for about 15 minutes or until a lot of the wine has been absorbed.
Squish the tomatoes in your hand over the pan to break them up then add the rest of the liquid to the pan, saving the can. Once it has been brought to a boil use the can with all of it’s tomato goodness still stuck to the sides to measure out the water. Fill the can with water and add to the pan. Add olives. Once this has been brought back to a boil lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water as the liquid starts to evaporate. You don’t want the sauce to stay too liquid, spaghetti soup is not the goal here. You also want the cuttlefish to be tender enough to break with a wooden spoon.
While your cuttlefish are simmering, fill a large pot with water for the pasta. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water starts to boil add a small handful of salt to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. My Italian husband tends to trust the cooking time on the package of pasta, but I never play by those rules and prefer to taste it for it’s crunchiness, or lack thereof.
When the pasta is perfectly al dente, turn up the heat on the sauce and drain the pasta. Without shaking all of the water out of the colander pour the spaghetti into the pan and toss it with the sauce This allows for the pasta to cook a little longer in the sauce and absorb the flavor.
* I don’t generally add salt to the sauce because the cuttlefish and the olives are salty enough plus I tend to use a lot of salt in the water for the pasta.
**Italians would scream with horror if you added cheese to this, I personally would too, but you aren’t making this for us, now are you?