Simple Nero di Seppia
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Nero di Seppia is squid ink pasta. There are two schools of thought on what method to use to make squid ink pasta. One method is to infuse the pasta dough with squid ink so that it is black in color. This is both stunning and tricky at the same time. The other technique is to use prepared pasta without the squid ink and make a sauce that is flavored and colored with the ink.
I ate at a well-known Greek restaurant in Manhattan several years ago and there was squid ink pasta on the menu. I had never tried this and was curious. I ordered it and was pleasantly surprised. The pasta was fresh and the sauce was a deep color with a briny squid essence. I happen to love squid (not just the frozen and deep-fried calamari rings) and this dish did not disappoint. The sauce was made with the ink of the fish and tender pieces of the squid bodies.
My vote is for making nero di seppia with fresh or dried basic pasta and a rich sauce infused with the black ink from the sacs of ocean-fresh squid. To be honest, this is easier than making pasta with the squid ink in the dough. That dough tends to be temperamental and a little hard to work with, depending on the weather. As crazy as that sounds, pasta and bread doughs are finicky when it comes to ingredients, humidity, temperature, and altitude. So go for a good premade basic pasta for this dish.
To make this sauce, you will have to find a fishmonger who has fresh, whole squid. You can carefully clean the squid and extract the sacs with the ink without breaking the membrane. This is not difficult unless raw fish makes you squirm. This video is worth watching for the proper technique to clean squid and remove the ink sac.
This recipe for nero di seppia calls for using prepared pasta. You will put your time into preparing a silky and flavorful sauce with plenty of squid essence. I like to center myself, take a few deep breaths, put on my favorite music, set out all my ingredients, and approach the sauce with a relaxed demeanor. It isn’t complicated. It just asks for a little careful effort, restraint, and patience so it is finessed and doesn’t overwhelm the palate.
- 1 ½ pounds fresh whole squid uncleaned
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 small garlic cloves minced
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley minced
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or more to taste)
- ½ cup good dry white wine
- 1 ½ Tbsp tomato paste thinned with a little water
- Water or broth for thinning the sauce
- 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp coarse sea salt
- 1 pound dried linguini tagliatelle, or spaghetti
- All ingredients ready? Let's begin!
- Prepare the squid: Pull the heads from the bodies of the squid. Separate the heads from the tentacles. Remove the hard beak from the tentacles. Set the tentacles aside. Carefully remove the guts from the interiors of the bodies so the ink sacs don’t rupture. Separate the ink sacs from the guts. Pull the clear cartilage from inside the body. Discard the head, guts, beak, and cartilage.
- Using your fingers, peel the purple skin from the bodies. If desired, cut off the side wings. Rinse the tubes and tentacles under cold water. Grab 2 small bowls.
- Open the ink sacs over one bowl to collect the ink. Dice the bodies and tentacles of the squid and place them in the other bowl.
- In a large skillet (with a lid) over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté until just translucent and aromatic, approximately 1 ½ minutes.
- Stir in the diced squid, ½ the parsley, and ground pepper. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the skillet, and cook low and slow for 45 minutes, stirring periodically. If the ingredients start to stick, add a small amount of water or broth to the pan.
- Add the wine and tomato paste to the squid. Stir well. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Dilute the sauce with a little water or broth, cover, and continue to simmer for 30 minutes longer. You want a sauce that is not too thin or too dry.
- About 15 minutes before assembling the dish, bring a large stockpot of water, seasoned with 1 tablespoon of coarse salt, to a boil. Add the pasta to the water and cook until just al dente, approximately 1 minute less than what the package directs. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta.
- Stir the squid ink into the sauce. Season with salt. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with some of the reserved pasta water.
- Add the pasta and the remaining parsley to the warm sauce and toss to coat evenly.
- Serve while hot with crusty bread.
Notes & Tips
- You may have been told not to cook squid for a long time or it will become chewy. This sauce is the exception. You want to cook the squid for as long as it takes to tenderize it and extract the ocean flavor. If desired, you can reserve some tentacles to add to the dish as a sort of garnish. Grill or sauté them for just a minute or two before serving.
- I don’t recommend adding grated cheese to your pasta. You may see Greek versions of this recipe that call for feta cheese to finish the dish. Cheese and fish are not always a good pairing. In this recipe, cheese would overpower the delicate squid ink and tender bits of meat. Cheese really changes the dish entirely.
What Does Squid Ink Taste Like?
Squid ink is salty and briny. It tastes like the sea with a bit of umami flavor.
Shortcuts & Substitutions
If the task of cleaning the squid seems daunting, you can ask your fishmonger to do it for you. Remember to tell him or her that you need the ink for your sauce.
I don’t love frozen squid for this recipe. Fresh is preferred for that ocean flavor. If you can only find frozen squid, use that and pick up a jar of squid ink that has already been harvested from fresh squid. This will certainly save time.
You can use fresh pasta for nero di sepia. In fact, that would be a treat. Fresh pasta only needs to cook for a couple of minutes.
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