Sautéed Calamari in Garlic & Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I love making delicious dishes that are very easy, yet flavorful and very little time consuming.  I know some of my recipes take a while, but this one takes very little time to make.  Make sure you get good quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh garlic that is hard to the touch, sealed in its peel, and without any green sprouts.  Of course, it goes without saying that the squid or calamari should either be very fresh or frozen.  If they are frozen, make sure to thaw them correctly, in accordance with the instructions, which should be on the frozen package.

Sautéed Calamari in Garlic and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lb Squid or Calamari
1 small head fresh Garlic – minced (never from a jar)
Lemon Wedges
Flat Leaf Parsley – finely or roughly chopped
Kosher Salt or Fine Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

Since hopefully your fishmonger has already cleaned the squid / calamari for you, begin by rinsing them in cold water and drying them thoroughly.  Cut them into 1 inch rings, and then dry them again.

Mince the garlic.  Chop the parsley.

In a large pan on medium high heat, add the olive oil.  When the oil is hot, not smoking as extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoking point, add the calamari and minced garlic, and sauté them until the calamari are just firm.  This step does not take long at all.  Do not overcook them, as the garlic becomes bitter and the calamari becomes rubbery.

Remove the pan from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

When you serve them, add the chopped flat leaf parsley and lemon wedges on the side.

Enjoy with a crusty baguette or any type of grilled bread you like.


Spinach & Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms in Tomato Sauce

Stuffed mushrooms make a delicious appetizer for any occasion.  They can be stuffed with anything you like, seafood, charcuterie, all sorts of cheeses, all kinds of vegetables … the list goes on.  They can be a part of a delicious brunch, dinner, or can be served as tapas.  I made them recently for my daughter’s birthday party as part of her special birthday dinner.   They were a hit with everyone!

SPINACH AND CHEESE STUFFED MUSHROOMS IN TOMATO SAUCE
STUFFING

3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large Shallots – finely chopped
1.5 lbs Cremini or Button Mushrooms – stems removed and set aside
4 cups Baby Spinach – loosely packed
2 Lemons – zested
1 1/2  cups shredded aged white English Cheddar – Barber’s 1833
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

TOMATO SAUCE

2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 large Garlic cloves
6 ripe Tomatoes – puréed
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
Pinch Red Chili Flakes

Begin by cleaning the mushrooms with a damp paper towel or a wooden pastry brush, which is what I prefer to use.  Gently remove the stems from the caps, and place them in a separate bowl to the side.  With a small spoon, remove the gills from the mushroom caps, and discard them.  Finely chop the mushroom stems, and set aside.

In a sauté pan on medium high heat, sauté the shallots and mushroom stems in the olive oil, until they are soft and translucent.  Chop the spinach and add it to the sauté pan.  Cook the spinach and mushroom mixture, until the spinach is completely wilted.  Add the lemon zest and stir.  Add salt and pepper to taste, then turn the heat off.  Allow the spinach and mushroom mixture to cool down to room temperature.  Start making the tomato sauce in the meantime.  After the mixture has cooled, add the shredded cheese and stir to incorporate all the ingredients together.

Peel and smash the garlic with your knife.  In a braiser or sauce pan on medium heat, sauté the garlic in the olive oil.  Make sure not to burn the garlic, as it tends to get very bitter.  Add a pinch of red chili flakes to the pan.  Quarter the tomatoes and purée them in a blender.  After the garlic has softened, add the tomato purée to the pan.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Allow the sauce to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stuff the mushroom caps with the spinach and mushroom stem mixture.  When the tomato sauce has reduced and thickened, ladle it into an oven proof casserole dish.  Place the stuffed mushroom caps over the sauce in the casserole dish, and bake them in the oven for 30 minutes.  When the mushroom caps have cooked through, and the cheese has melted (after 30 minutes in the oven), remove the casserole dish from the oven, and allow it to rest for a few minutes before serving.  Serve the stuffed mushrooms with the sauce and enjoy!


Grapefruit, Blackberry & Basil Salad

As I have mentioned in previous “salad” posts, I love salads.  I mostly make savory and zesty salads, full of Mediterranean flavors.  This time, I decide to branch out a little from the savory aspect.  I want to have a light lunch, something sweet, yet a little salty.  I decide to use a very common combination, fruit and cheese.  Couple that with extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs, and the outcome is a very light and refreshing salad!

GRAPEFRUIT, BLACKBERRIES, AND BASIL SALAD

4 medium Grapefruit(s) – Suprêmes or segments 
6 oz Blackberries
6 oz aged white English Cheddar – Barber’s 1833
3 tablespoons Grapefruit juice
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper
1/3 cup small or torn Sweet Basil leaves – loosely packed

Begin by washing and drying the fruit and basil.

With a sharp knife, cut through the skin and pith of the grapefruit, exposing the pulp segments.  Gently slice through each membrane over a bowl, removing the grapefruit segments, forming suprêmes.  When all the segments have been removed, squeeze the remaining grapefruit membranes with your hand to get all the juice out.

Drain the juice from the grapefruit, and set to the side for the dressing.  In a small bowl, add 3 tablespoons of the grapefruit juice, a pinch of salt, a few grinds of freshly ground pepper, and the olive oil.  Set aside.

Add the clean blackberries to the grapefruit suprêmes.  Add the dressing and the fresh basil leaves, and stir very delicately, as to not break the grapefruit suprêmes.

With a cheese knife or a little knife, cut or crumble the cheddar cheese into small bite size pieces.  Set them aside for the plated salad.

To plate, get a small serving plate, scoop a large spoonful or two of the grapefruit, blackberry, and basil salad onto the plate.  Sprinkle about a small handful of cheddar pieces onto the salad.  Finish with a grind of freshly ground black pepper, and serve.  ENJOY!


Spaghetti w/ Olives & Capers

I took a day off of work this week, which was quite exciting for me.  I got to spend some quality time with my daughter, since she was done with school for the summer.  I had been working on a summer schedule for her that included chores, reading, math problems, you know … a schedule she truly loves (said facetiously).  One thing she asked of me was to teach her how to cook.  Of course, as a self proclaimed foodie and a lover of all things cooking and food, I was quite excited.  To celebrate this occasion, I wanted to make her a dish that was not too kid friendly, but one she might like.  I guess I was making a point that if she became proficient in the art of cooking, she could make her future kids eat anything … including a dish with lots of black and green olives and anchovies.  I decided to make Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, my way.  Traditionally, this dish includes tomatoes and does not have the topping that I added; however, part of the lesson for the day was that cooking is art with which one can express oneself.  The recipe did not have to be strictly adhered to, as long as the outcome was delicious.  So, she sat in the kitchen with me as I cooked, and while we chatted about life and food.

SPAGHETTI WITH OLIVES AND CAPERS

1 lb Spaghetti
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Shallots – finely diced
4 large Garlic cloves – finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Red Chili Flakes
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
6 Anchovy fillets*oil packed
1 Red Bell Pepper – finely diced
1/2 cup White Wine
1 cup pitted & roughly chopped Black and Green Olives
2 tablespoons Capers non pareil
2 large Lemons – juiced & zested (zest is for topping)
1 ladle Salty Pasta Water
2 tablespoons Italian Parsley – finely chopped

PANKO TOPPING
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup Japanese Panko Bread Crumbs
Zest of 2 Lemons
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley – finely chopped
Chives for garnish – OPTIONAL

*You will not taste the anchovies in this dish.  They only serve to add a much needed depth of flavor.  So, even if you do not like anchovies, you most likely will still like this dish.  If you are still hesitant, either use a fewer amount of anchovy fillets or eliminate them all together. 

In a large pan on medium high heat, sauté the shallots in the olive oil.  Add the garlic, anchovies, and red chili flakes, and sauté for another minute, before adding the diced bell pepper.  Add the salt and pepper, and sauté until all the ingredients in the pan are translucent.  Be careful with the salt, as the anchovies, olives, and capers add much salt to the dish.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta.

In a pot of boiling salted water, add your dried spaghetti, and cook for about 8 minutes, before the al dente phase.  Make sure to occasionally stir the pasta to keep it from sticking.  Always reserve a couple of ladles of pasta water, in case you need them for the sauce.

While the pasta is cooking, deglaze the pan with the white wine, until it is reduced by half.  Turn the heat down to medium low, and add the lemon juice, chopped olives, and capers and stir.  Add a ladle of salty pasta water.

When the spaghetti is almost at al dente, remove it from the water, and immediately add it to the sauce.  Stir gently, then remove from the heat.  The pasta will continue to cook from the residual heat.  Add the Italian parsley, and stir gently to incorporate everything together, without breaking the delicate strands.

In a small pan, toast the Panko bread crumbs in olive oil over medium heat.  Add the lemon zest and Italian parsley, and stir to incorporate them together.  When the Panko bread crumbs are golden brown, remove them from the heat, and set them aside.  This process is pretty quick, so keep your eyes on the bread crumbs.  No one likes burnt bread crumbs.

Now, to serve.  Place the spaghetti with the olive and caper sauce gently in a serving dish.  Top the spaghetti with the golden brown bread crumbs and lemon zest topping.  Finally, sprinkle a few finely diced chives on top.  The bread crumbs add another texture to this complex dish, and the lemon zest adds a citrusy finish to enhance the delicious flavors of the Mediterranean embodied in this plate.  I hope you enjoy my take on this Spaghetti classic.  Buon Appetito!