Have accumulated many cookbooks over the years; so many in fact that they are starting to take over my tiny apartment — stacks here, there, and everywhere. Some of these cookbooks are geared toward quick and easy weekday meals. Others are more educational, methodical, innovative, and, in some cases, just plain classic. An education for the price of a book, sans the high cost of tuition (am already up to my ears — drowning — in student loans and, thus, will not be attending culinary school anytime soon). Dishes from the latter cookbooks often (but not always) require more time in the kitchen; some are “labor-of-love-intensive”, but in the end, result in some pretty memorable meals that you will surely be proud of. I think there is room for both.
One of those classic books is Judy Rogers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I’ve just scratched the surface and am eager to try more — so many recipes to try, so little time. At over 500 pages, Judy is a wealth of knowledge. Page 338, Spicy Squid Stew with Red Wine & Roasted Peppers, is a winner in my book; although, I may be a bit biased, as I love just about anything that has to do with cepholapods — squid, cuttlefish, octopus…you name it. For me, a braised squid stew in red wine and squid ink is downright soul-satisfying. The squid is cooked until extremely tender; the wine, tomatoes, and squid ink reduce to a thick, murky sauce. The strips of orange peel contribute a refreshing element. I’ve kicked up the heat a bit (the original recipe was a bit tame for my taste) and added a few handfuls of young spinach.
Rogers goes into detail about cleaning the squid, though I buy mine already cleaned (one less step) and add a few packets of squid ink (in place of the ink sac). Check your local fish market for squid ink. If you can’t find squid ink, you can omit it, but it’s worth seeking out, as it adds a distinct brininess, saltiness, umami-ness (is that a word?) to the dish.
This dish is straightforward to prepare. Basically, let the squid braise for a while until tender and you can’t go wrong. Cooling and reheating the stew makes the squid more tender. So, if time is an issue, prepare ahead of time and reheat when you are ready to serve.
Zuni Braised Squid
Adapted from Judy Roger’s Zuni Cafe Cookbook
serves 4 as a first course; 2 as a main course
1 1/2 pounds cleaned squid, cut into ~ 1/2-inch rings
~6 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red wine
3/4 cup chopped drained canned tomatoes
3/4 cup carrot, diced
3/4 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
2-4 dried chiles, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 packets (0.14 ounces each) squid ink
2 strips orange zest (removed with a vegetable peeler)
1 branch of fresh basil
1 medium red pepper, roasted (see note below), cut into large dice
2 large handfuls baby spinach, about 5 ounces
Grilled/toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with sea salt
Warm a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a 10-inch skillet. When the oil is sizzling, add the squid and cook briskly for ~45 seconds, stirring and tossing to cook evenly. Season lightly with salt and transfer the squid to a 4-quart saucepan. Add another tablespoon or two of oil to the skillet and cook the remaining squid. Season lightly with salt and transfer to the 4-quart saucepan with the rest of the squid. Set aside.
Pour the red wine into the skillet to deglaze the squid juices and stir and scrape as the liquid reduces by one-third. Add the tomatoes and heat through. Pour the reduced red wine-tomatoes over the squid; it should be about half submerged in liquid.
Add two more tablespoons of olive oil, the carrots, onions, celery, chiles, chopped garlic, tomato paste, squid ink, and orange zest. Pick the leaves off the branch of basil and set them aside. Add the branch to the stew. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste for salt and add the roasted red peppers. Simmer uncovered until the squid becomes tender, 10-30 minutes, depending on the squid, the pan, and the burner. Cooling and reheating the stew makes the squid more tender.
Reheat gently, adding the reserved basil leaves and baby spinach as the stew comes to a simmer. Serve with toasted or grilled bread rubbed generously with fresh garlic and a sprinkling of sea salt.
Note: I bought my squid already cleaned and added two small packets of squid ink (in place of the ink sac).
Note: To roast the red pepper — Roast on an open gas flame, turning with metal tongs, until charred on all sides (Alternatively, place under the broiler or roast on the grill, turning every few minutes). Place in a paper bag about 10 minutes. Remove from the bag, and with the side of a chef’s knife, scrape away the charred skin. Cut open and seed the peppers.