Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stuffed Calamari

Stuffed Calamari

There's a little Italian American restaurant in Honolulu called Auntie Pasto's. Back when I first ate there twenty years ago, there weren't too many casual neighborhood Italian eateries to choose from in Hawaii and Auntie Pasto's was one of the better choices in my memory. Since that time, as food culture and awareness flourished and foodies grew more sophisticated, more and more Italian restaurants opened their doors to a hungry Hawaiian public eager for new flavors.

Although I enjoy sampling authentic, regional Italian cuisines there's something nice and comforting about basic Italian American style fare. Perhaps it's the warmth and hospitality of the establishment, or the fact that you don't have to speak Italian to understand what all the items are on the menu. On more than one occasion at Auntie Pasto's, when the line to get in was about twenty deep or so, the owner would send out one of the waitresses with a stack of plastic cups and several carafes of house Chianti for those of us waiting in line. That's what I call hospitality.

You can always order an old standard at places like these and walk away at the end of the meal feeling full and happy with money left in your wallet. Humble mounds of spaghetti and meatballs and plates of eggplant Parmesan cooked to perfection and smothered in marinara all taste as if your Italian Grandma (or Auntie in this case) cooked all afternoon just for you.

In addition to all the usual favorites to choose from, there were always the chalk board specials. I can't be sure if the stuffed calamari was on the regular menu back then. It's highly likely I ordered it off of the specials menu. Squid, stuffed with breadcrumbs and ricotta cheese (?), baked and served over a bed of spaghetti marinara.

In this version, I added some chopped clams to the stuffing and went with a pomodoro sauce. It took a little effort to stuff these guys. Perhaps there is a trick to stuffing them like maybe using a pastry bag, but with a little patience I managed to get them filled. Now, the key to cooking calamari is either, cook them forever or cook them quickly, anything in between and you end up with something inedibly reminiscent of a garden hose in texture. I chose to saute the stuffed calamari in a pan with tomato sauce for a few minutes and finish them off under the broiler for another few. They came out pretty tender and not rubbery at all.

When eating out, I'll always look over the daily specials menu. Once in a while I'll try a dish like this and be pleasantly surprised.

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