Italian Stuffed Squid with a Black Orzo Risotto

I’ve been cooking a lot of wholesome brown-looking autumnal dishes lately. And goodies that would make nice little Christmas presents such as cookies and chutneys.

Suddenly I was craving colour and spice and pasta and seafood and the flavours of the sunny Mediterranean.

So here it is.

This stuffed squid has a wonderful texture, not rubbery at all, as it is slow-baked in a rich lightly spiced tomato sauce. Squid either needs to be cooked hot and quick or low and slow.

You could use smaller calamari and serve them whole, but I like using a large squid tube per person and slice it to show off the delicious filling.

This decadent stuffed squid would be fabulous with a squid ink risotto. But I fancied a silky glossy pasta instead.

Orzo is Italian for “barley”, but it’s also a miniature pasta that looks like long grain rice. It’s also known as “risoni” meaning “big rice”. This unusual pasta shape is akin to certain pasta used in Israeli, Turkish and Greek cuisine. It’s lovely in soups, salads, stews and many other recipes where you might otherwise use macaroni or vermicelli.

Due to its shape, orzo doesn’t carry sauces very well though. They just slip and slide off. Which is why it is often cooked risotto style, so that flavours are infused into it while it cooks: lightly fried with onion and garlic and then hot stock ladled on ladle by ladle until cooked.

Pasta cooked risotto style is officially known as  “Risottata”. Pasta does not have the starch of a risotto rice that makes it pretty much “self-saucing”. But there is enough starch in and on it  to achieve a gently oozing effect.

squid ink and orzo

Jet-black squid ink is stirred through to link in with the stuffed squid. Surprisingly, this adds a briny richness rather than an overpowering fishy flavour. Not to mention gothic drama. It’s high in antioxidants and iron to boot. Try it. I think you might like it. You can buy sachets or little jars of squid ink fairly easily now, either online (Amazon), at the fishmonger or in deli’s.

If you cant’ find squid ink, you might be able to find squid ink orzo instead. The flavour and colour won’t be quite as intense, but it’s a decent back up plan.

The spice mainly comes from Nduja and Chorizo (optional) in the tomato sauce.

Nduja is a spreadable spicy salami from the Southern Italian region of Calabria, basically the “toe in the boot” that is Italy on the map. Nduja finds its way into many of my dishes, as it melts beautifully and adds a gorgeous spicy richness, particularly to tomato-based dishes. It makes great croutons and is equally beautiful thinly spread onto a cracker or a piece of crunchy baguette. Some supermarket deli counters stock it now, else get it online from retailers such as Natoora.

Chorizo is admittedly a cheeky Spanish addition to an otherwise predominantly Italian dish. This famous cured sausage probably doesn’t need any introduction, but if it does, check out my potato and chorizo traybake, where I tell you a little bit more about it.

A meat and fish or seafood combo is referred to as “Mare e Monti” in Italy. If you’re a pescatarian, obviously leave the meats out and just add some fresh chilli or chilli flakes instead.

Either way, the spice is not supposed to blow your head off, as you still want to taste the delicate squid, the filling and the pasta. You’re looking for a background hint of heat that brings out the rest of the flavours, so go easy, whether using nduja,  chorizo, chilli flakes or chilli powder. Or leave the spice out altogether if you prefer the tomatoes to shine.

I served this as part of an Italian dinner:

Ricotta Gnudi in a Tomato Broth with Kale and Cashew Pesto

Italian Stuffed Squid with Nduja Roasted Tomato Sauce and Squid Ink Orzo Risotto 

Sgroppino – Limoncello Sorbet and Prosecco

THE RECIPES

Stuffed Squid with Chorizo (serves 4 – GF DF LC)

stuffed squid and black orzo

This stuffed squid is inspired by a recipe from one of my favourite Italian chefs, Francesco Mazzei. In 2008, he opened one the fantastic l’Anima on the edge of Hoxton and Shoreditch, still acclaimed to be one of the best Italian restaurants in London. He is now head chef at Sartoria on Saville Row.

Make this dish pescetarian by leaving out the chorizo. If using smaller calamari, you could serve them as a starter with crusty bread for dipping.

Ingredients

4 large raw squid tubes, approx. 140 gr each, or 8 calamari tubes

325-350 gr raw squid (rings, tubes or calamari), cut into small chunks

1 large red pepper, preferably romano, cut into small cubes

2 garlic cloves, raw or roasted with the tomatoes below , finely chopped

80 gr cured chorizo, skin removed and cut into small cubes (spicy or mild to taste) or a pinch of chilli flakes, chilli powder or paprika

150 gr petit pois (small peas, frozen is fine), blanched for 1/2 a minute or so. I blanched them in the chicken stock I was using for the orzo)

4-6 semi-dried tomatoes in oil, drained, patted dry with kitchen paper and finely chopped

1-2 egg whites (I used 1 1/2)

some chives, finely chopped

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Nduja roasted tomato sauce (recipes below)

Method

Heat the oven to 180 C.

Fry off the chorizo (if using) and drain, reserving the oil. If you like, you can fry it off with the Nduja for the tomato sauce (if using), drain and add the juices to the tomato sauce.

Pulse the squid chunks, the shallot and the garlic in a food processor until roughly chopped. Add the egg whites, red pepper and semi-dried tomatoes. Season to taste. Pulse again, but still leave a little texture. You’re not looking for a smooth paste.

Transfer to a bowl and fold through the drained chorizo, peas and chives.

Italian squid filling

Fill the squid tubes with this mixture, jamming it in tightly and ensuring the filling goes all the way down to the bottom of the tubes as well. Secure with a tooth pick.

Cut off a tiny bit from the other end of the squid to create a little hole. This helps prevent the tube from exploding while cooking, as the squid will inflate like a balloon!

Pour the tomato sauce into an oven dish. Add the squid on top, cover with aluminium foil and bake for 50 mins-1 hr. Alternatively you can bake the squid by itself with a bit of water or stock poured around to create a little steam and heat the sauce separately to serve on the side.

Carefully remove the squid from the sauce and slice. If using smaller calamari, you may like to leave them whole, scoring the top a few times to show the filling.

Spoon some sauce onto 4 plates and top with a sliced squid each, or 2 calamari each.

Serve with the squid ink orzo risotatta or stir the tomato sauce through pasta and serve the squid alongside.

Nduja Roasted tomato sauce (serves 4-6 GF LC DF)

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This is a very versatile sauce that works great with pasta, gnocchi or other fish and seafood too. Make it vegetarian/vegan or pescetarian by leaving out the nduja and the chorizo oil

Ingredients

1 kg vine cherry tomatoes of baby plum tomatoes, left whole

4 garlic cloves, whole, skin on

2-3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil

1 tsp dried oregano

2 banana shallots, finely chopped

1-2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

1-2 sticks of celery, finely chopped

A few saffron strands

1 tbsp tomato paste

A pinch of sugar

1/4 tsp piment d’espellette (optional)

1/4 tsp paprika

A small bunch of basil, roughly torn, stems and all

20 – 30 gr nduja (optional)

1/4 tsp chili flakes or 1/2 fresh red chili, seeds removed and finely chopped if not using the Nduja

500 ml fish or vegetable stock, reduced to 100 ml

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Method

Heat the oven to 190 C

Tip the tomatoes into a large roasting tin. Prick around with a fork to help them burst when cooking. Tuck the garlic among them. Drizzle with 2 tbsp oil, season generously and roast for 45 minutes or until most of the tomatoes are burst.

Heat the remaining oil on a large heavy based casserole.

Fry the onion for 5-1- minutes without colouring. Add the carrot and celery, fry for another 5 mins or so.

Squeeze the garlic out of its skins and finely chop. Use half of it for the squid filling, add the other half to the casserole. Add the tomatoes with their juices.

Stir and add the saffron, sugar, piment d’espellette (if using), paprika, basil and chilli (if not using nduja). Stir, cover and turn the heat to low.

Cook the tomato sauce for 45 mins. Strain through a sieve and push through as much of the tomato and solids as you can.

If using, heat a small non-stick frying pan and add the cubed chorizo for the squid filling and the nduja. Fry over medium-high heat for a few minutes until the nduja has melted and the chorizo has released their oils and has crisped up. Stir often to avoid the chorizo from catching and burning.

Strain through a sieve, reserving the oils. Add the chorizo to the squid stuffing, add the oils to the tomato sauce.

Stir through the reduced fish stock.

Use the sauce to bake the squid (sieving before serving optional), or gently reheat and serve on the side.

Leftovers

Fry off any leftover squid filling and mix through any leftover sauce and herbs. Stir through pasta or gnocchi.

roasted tomato and nduja sauce pasta

Squid Ink Orzo Risotto aka Risottata (serves 4 – DF RSF)

This is a great dish served with some simply flash fried squid as well. Top with a few slithers of roasted red pepper for colour if so. You could use fregola pasta which looks like giant couscous if you prefer.

stuffed squid with black orzo

Ingredients

300 gr Orzo

500 ml hot chicken, vegetable or fish stock (preferably home made and reduced to 500 ml. You may need more or less. I used chicken stock)

150 ml white wine

1 small onion or 2 small shallots, finely chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil

1 sachet of squid ink (4 gr) or 1 heaped tsp from a jar

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Method

Have your stock in a separate pan on the heat next to the burner where you are going to prepare the Orzo. Keep it on a low heat to stay hot.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based casserole on medium heat. Add the onion or shallot and fry gently for 5-7 mins without colouring but until cooked.

Add the orzo and toss. Fry for a minute or 2 without browning.

Turn the heat to medium high and add the wine. Let it bubble up and reduce by half.

Add a ladle of hot stock, stir, season and let it bubble up and reduce. Once as good as disappeared, add the next addle, Stir regularly to prevent the orzo from catching on the bottom of the pan. Adjust the heat under the pan as needed.

Continue adding stock and stirring until the orzo is cooked while being slightly moist and oozing.  Stir through the squid ink and cook for a couple of minutes on low heat to let the orzo absorb the ink.

Check the seasoning.

Serve alongside the stuffed squid.

stuffed squid with tomato sauce and black orzo

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