Not another Italian food cookbook, I can hear some of you say.
Tagliolini with Ragù di Seppia
MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS
11⁄2 pounds (680 g) cuttlefish or squid, cleaned
3⁄4 cup (175 ml) olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
1 medium-size yellow onion, julienned finely
1⁄8 teaspoon (0.25 g) red chili flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 peeled canned tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, cored and crushed by hand
2 to 3 cups (500 to 750 ml) white wine
2 teaspoons (10 ml) squid ink
1 bay leaf
1 pound (450 g) fresh or frozen tagliolini pasta
1⁄3 cup (20 g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Seppia (cuttlefish) is all over the fish market in Venice. It’s similar to squid and octopus but tastes sweeter and more tender. It’s my favorite cephalopod. You can eat it raw, stuffed, braised, baked, or even grilled. The best thing is the ink from the cuttlefish (often labeled as squid ink in stores). It turns everything black, like a busted ballpoint pen. Wear an apron when making this recipe! I use plenty of ink because if I’m going to eat a squid ink dish, I want it to be completely black, not gray. The sauce here should be so black that the pasta turns black. I use the ink from the cuttlefish plus some store-bought squid ink. You can buy jars of it from various gourmet retailers. The cuttlefish itself you can get at most Asian fish markets. Or, if you can’t find cuttlefish, use squid instead.
Reserve the cuttlefish or squid ink sacs. Finely julienne the bodies and tentacles (if using squid) and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the oil in a large, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chili flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the cuttlefish and tomatoes, and cook for 5 minutes. Add enough wine to just cover the ingredients, and cook until the liquid reduces in volume by three quarters, 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, carefully peel the skin off the ink sacs over a small bowl, which will release the ink. Cover the ink with just enough water so the ink can be poured out of the bowl. Add the inky water to the pan, and then rinse out the bowl with just enough water to capture all the ink, adding the inky liquid to the pan (you want maximum ink and minimum water). Add the 2 tablespoons (10 ml) of squid ink and the bay leaf and simmer over medium-low heat until the cuttlefish is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and then remove from the heat. The ragù can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 2 days before using. Just reheat it gently in a sauté pan.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the pasta; quickly return the water to a boil, stirring the pasta gently, and cook until the pasta is tender yet firm, about 1 minute. Reserve 1 cup (235 ml) of pasta water, then drain the pasta.
Meanwhile, add the remaining 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) of oil to the ragù, stirring vigorously to blend it in. Add the pasta to the ragù (in batches if your pan is small), stirring immediately with a fork to prevent the pasta from clumping. Stir in the parsley, and cook over medium heat until most of the sauce coats the pasta; stir in additional oil and pasta water as necessary to create a creamy sauce.
Divide among warm plates, twirling the pasta into nests on each plate.
(* Recipe reprinted with permission from EATING ITALY © 2013 by Jeff Michaud with David Joachim, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group)