Dinner for Two: Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

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I must credit two people for introducing me to what has become my favorite special-occasion-feeling fast-food meal. The first is Melissa Clark, who wrote the recipe for the dish you see above, and the second is my dear friend, Tracie, who gifted me Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now, the book that contains said recipe.

I adore Melissa Clark because she takes dishes that seem complicated and makes them super simple and un-intimidating (like this one). And then once you make the dish, stand back and admire your work, you feel like a superhero / star chef. I love that feeling.

I grew up eating a lot of calamari, usually fried. It was a staple of our Christmas Eve menu as well as our Good Friday one. Good ol’ Italian Catholics and their affinity for seafood. My mother makes the lightest fried calamari you’ve ever tasted. It’s never greasy or rubbery or heavy or fishy, probably because my mom knows how to buy seafood, and she knows how to fry. I’ve become comfortable cooking fish fillets in the last six months, and while I can do a lot with shrimp and I’ve finally figured out how to sear scallops (hot pan! hot pan!), I have stayed away from squid. A—I don’t fry food, and B—I had distinct memories or seeing it inky, sandy and slippery on the kitchen counter from my childhood. Gross.

Ms. Clark introduced me to buying cleaned squid and sauteing it in butter and olive oil. Life-changing, let me tell you! Cleaned squid, tentacles and all, takes minutes to prepare. You cut the bodies into half-inch rings and leave them on paper towels to dry, then pat dry again. Leave the tentacles whole, unless they’re huge, in which case you just split them in half with your knife. It’s totally not gross. Also, something my mother taught me—fresh seafood doesn’t smell fishy. It smells like the sea. So if you get home and unwrap your squid and it stinks, wrap it back up and take it back to your fish dealer. Get a refund, and don’t buy from them again.

Israeli couscous is a great partner for the squid here – it’s light and creamy yet still has some bite, it absorbs the sauce well, and if you get the tri-color kind like I did, it certainly looks pretty. I found some beautiful snap peas at the market, so I served them steamed with the squid & couscous. You could substitute broccoli or baby spinach as well.

One word of note: This dish takes ten minutes to prepare, but to achieve greatness in those 10 minutes, have all your ingredients ready and the table set. You and your sweetie will be treated to an amazing meal, I promise.

RECIPE:

Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2 tsbp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound fresh raw squid, bodies cut into 1/2 rings, plus the tentacles, patted dry
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • quarter of a lemon (to squeeze)

Method:

  • Add broth & pinch of salt to a 1.5 or 2 quart saucepan, then bring to a boil. Add the couscous, return to a boil, then cover and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • This would be a good time to prep a vegetable for steaming in the microwave. Or, you could whip a green salad together. Just sayin’.
  • When the couscous has 5 minutes to go, heat a large skillet (not non-stick) over high heat. After a couple a minutes, add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is melted and the foam subsides, add the squid and stand back (there may be some sputters and pops – careful!). Be patient and don’t poke the squid for a solid minute.
  • Add the garlic, basil, parsley and pepper flakes and stir everything together. You’ll see some sear marks on the squid (this is good), and you want to cook it till its just opaque throughout, which is really easy to see. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and remove from heat.
  • Stir in the couscous till its coated with the sauce, then squeeze the lemon over the mixture (watch out for pits!) and stir again. Serve immediately with a nutritious green vegetable and a glass of something light and crisp, like a Grüner Vetliner.

Simple, Fast, Delicious: 15-minute Fish Stew

Yum.

I’ve been wanting to make cioppino for awhile. It’s a hearty fish stew that is typically thought to be of Italian origin, but it actually comes from the great American city of San Francisco.  Traditionally, cioppino is made with several kinds of fresh seafood cooked in a tomato-white wine broth, and always accompanied by hot, crusty bread—usually sourdough or a baguette.

This recipe is a simplified version of cioppino, courtesy of Mark Bittman.  It requires about a pound and a half of fish (any combination you like), fish stock and a pinch of saffron—an expensive ingredient, yes, but a little really does go along way. Once you’ve prepped your ingredients, the dish takes about 15 minutes to cook (which is probably why he calls his recipe Lightning-Quick Fish Soup).  I made it using two fish I had on hand: shrimp and cod, which not only work fabulously but are also reasonably priced.

Be sure to work with fresh or fully defrosted fish (you don’t want to work with anything pre-cooked or frozen).  If you don’t have saffron, you can always add some more smoked paprika for a flavor boost—though it is worth pointing out that nothing flavors like saffron except saffron. It is that special.

Recipe: 15-minute Fish Stew

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “Lightning-Quick Fish Soup”

from How to Cook Everything, 2008

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped fire-roasted tomatoes, with their juices (I’m a big fan of the Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted tomatoes)
  • 1 quart seafood stock (Kitchen Basics is terrific if you haven’t made your own)
  • Pinch saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3/4 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 3/4 pound cod filet, deboned and cut into 2″ chunks
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Parsley, for garnish
  • Toasted bread (baguette, sourdough or ciabatta) for serving

Method:

Set a large, deep pot over medium high heat; add olive oil & swirl to coat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes.  Turn the heat down if you notice the garlic browning. Add the chopped tomato, a dash of salt and pepper and cook another minute.

Add the stock, paprikas, and saffron and turn the heat up to high. Cover and bring to a boil.

Remove cover, reduce the heat to a steady simmer and let cook for 5 minutes.

Add the fish, stirring, until it cooks through—about 5 minutes.

Garnish with the parsley and drizzle just a touch of oil over each bowl of stew. Serve with freshly toasted bread.

Should you have leftovers…

  • This soup will keep up to 2 days in the fridge. Reheat on the stove over low heat and let it simmer for 3-5 minutes before serving.