Wednesday, January 12, 2011

spaghetti al nìvuro di sìccia / spaghetti with squid ink sauce

The first time I had the pleasure of eating squid ink sauce was at 40 Ladroni, a sensationally delicious restaurant tucked away in the San Marco district of Venice. I fell so madly in love with this mysterious black dish that a friend of mine proposed marriage on my behalf to our unsuspecting waiter and benevolent bearer of squid ink. The amiable Venetian decided to play along, announcing the engagement to the restaurant of friendly Italians enjoying their Sunday lunch. Prenuptial toasts and complementary shots of limoncello ensued.

Ever since this wonderful day combined marital bliss with the even more vital promise of eternal squid ink sauce and limoncello, I have craved this dish. After lucklessly scouring a host of American cities in hopes of finding a restaurant or market that serves it, I decided to try my hand at it myself. To my delight, I discovered that it’s not as difficult or expensive as it looks, as long as you can get your hands on some of that mythical squid ink (which also makes a fetching moustache).

Squid ink can be hard to find, so whenever I see it I buy as much as I can afford and store it in my freezer. Don't worry if you're not planning on using it anytime soon - squid ink has quite the shelf life. Concerned about the expiration status of some squid ink I bought last summer in Boston's North End, I did some research and came across an article that showed how squid ink can last over 155 million years!

If you're having trouble locating squid ink, I've found that sometimes you can call a local fishery a day in advance. They're often happy to get some fresh squid ink especially for you when the fishermen come the next day.

1 lb good spaghetti
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
a dash of red pepper flakes
1/2 lb squid tubes, cleaned (and tentacles if desired)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
a handful of parsley
1 to 2 teaspoons squid ink
salt (to taste)

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes and sauté for about 3 minutes or until the onions begin to become translucent.

In the meantime, slice the squid horizontally into rings.

Once the onions and garlic begin to smell fragrant, add the squid and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes, wine, and a handful of parsley, reserving a generous portion of the parsley for the garnish.

Simmer on medium to medium-high heat for 15 to 25 minutes, allowing the sauce to thicken.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions. Do not overcook the pasta - you want it to be al dente.

Once the sauce has thickened, add the squid ink. Remember, a little goes a long way! Add the ink slowly, watching the colors change, and tasting if you like. When you have a sauce that is as black as night, you know it's time to stop!

Simmer the black sauce for about a minute and then add the drained pasta. Garnish with the leftover parsley, and serve.

(serves 4 and a kitten)