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A reader recently asked if I knew a recipe for calamari ripieni (stuffed squids); this is my mother’s recipe and, as always happens with handed down family recipes, it’s very ‘approximate’, just un pizzico di questo (a pinch of this), un po’ di quello (a little bit of that), percio’ vi chiedo scusa (therefore, please forgive me). First a little explanation about pangrattato (lit. grated bread, or breadcrumbs). Pangrattato is a very common ingredient in Italian cuisine and it’s made from dry bread which is grated very finely. In Italy you can buy it from the fornaio (baker), but you can also make it very easily at home: cut some left over bread in thick slices (about 2 cm), put them in a baking tray and bake them in a moderate oven until completely dry; grate the dry bread with a cheese grater and then sieve it. Whenever I have done some baking I put any left over bread that I have in the oven while it is still nice and hot and leave it there to dry out. After a few days of this treatment it’s ready for grating, the breadcrumbs can be stored in a jar, and I can start a new batch. In my oven there’s always a tray filled with slices of old dried bread, it’s a family tradition.
Now the recipe! Ingredienti:
Calamari gia’ puliti (ready cleaned squids)
Pangrattato (dried breadcrumbs)
1 o 2 spicchi d’aglio spremuti (1 or 2 cloves of garlic, squeezed)
Olio extra vergine d’oliva (extra virgin olive oil)
Un ciuffo di prezzemolo tritato finemente (a small bunch of parsley finely chopped)
Sale e pepe (salt and pepper)
Rub together the pangrattato, garlic, parsley, 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper, and stuff the calamari with this mixture. Put a little olive oil in the bottom of a baking tray, lay the stuffed squids on the tray and bake in a moderately hot oven at 200 degrees C, 400 degrees F, gas mark 6. The cooking time depends on the size of the squids, but make sure that all the liquid produced by the calamari has evaporated and they are tender. Towards the end of the baking you can increase the oven temperature for a few minutes to make the top nice and crispy. Leave them to cool and enjoy.
An alternative recipe is to prepare a tomato sauce flavored with garlic, parsley, a pinch of oregano, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar if the tomato is too acidic. Put this sauce in the bottom of the baking tray and cook the calamari in the same way as above.
Pangrattato stuffing is also used for many other recipes, in particular verdure ripiene al forno (stuffed oven baked vegetables). Try it sprinkled on the top of sweet peppers sliced lengthways to make shallow boats, small zucchini cut in half lengthways and slightly excavated, or fresh tomatoes cut in half (remove the seeds and let them to drain for half an hour). Put the vegetables on a baking tray greased with olive oil, sprinkle them with yet more olive oil and bake in a hot oven until the vegetables are properly cooked and the top is dark and crispy. Serve them warm or cold.