I still find the odd moment to cook for myself and so, in celebration of my boyfriend finally finding a decent source of frozen fish in this town, I decided to make a comfort food favorite of mine: Seppie e piselli, or cuttlefish and peas.
First of all, I feel I need to emphasize the difference between the various cephalopods that make in onto my plate. I know that many people flinch away from the word “cuttlefish”, but in reality they are very similar to calamari (a.k.a. squid), just smaller, more flavorful and more tender.
Cuttlefish have a rounder mantle, containing a calcium-based internal shell called a cuttlebone. Squid belong to a different order of cephalopods, have a longer mantle, and only a thin plastic-like internal shell, made of chitin, called a pen. Another cephalopod that finds its way onto Italian plates are totani, which are in the same order as squid, but have no common name in English as far as I can tell. Of course, the king of the cephalopods is the octopus, but cooking those is worthy of a seperate post for another time.
The main hassle of cooking cephalopods is to make sure that they are not chewy. Their texture will depend largely on their size, and the smaller the animal the better, although in my experience cuttlefish suffer from this problem far less than calamari do.
One thing that helps alot is to buy them whole, especially if they are frozen, as chopped calamari or squid lose far more liquid in thawing which results in their turning chewy. You can also boil the crap out of them, then cook them however you want, which does tenderize the meat. With cuttlefish the size of your palm, as mine were, you don’t need to do anything special to them.
So, without further ado, a simple recipe that reminds me of my childhood.
You will need:
1 kg of cleaned cuttlefish (or 1.5 kg if you have to clean them)
600gr of small, frozen peas
1-2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons of olive oil
300mL of dry white wine
1 can of chopped tomatoes (optional, but in my neck of the woods we add tomato)
1/2 fresh red chili (also optional).
The procedure is simple. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the chili and the whole smashed garlic cloves. After a few minutes remove the chili, but if you love cooked garlic you can leave that in the pan.
Cut the cuttlefish into strips and add them to the flavored oil. They will spit out some liquid but that’s OK, let it evaporate off. I will admit, this recipe is a bitch to cook on an electric stove, so use the highest temperature you can.
Once the cuttlefish liquid has reduced down to a couple of tablespoons add the wine, and hopefully you will hear the satisfactory whooshing sound. Let that also reduce down to a couple of tablespoons.
Add the frozen peas, the tomato, salt to taste and stir everything up. You can reduce the heat to medium while the peas cook, but let over half of the liquid evaporate off. You should be left with enough liquid to bind everything together, but it should not be soupy.
And that’s it! Simple, yet so so good. So much in fact that I had to rip off a picture from the internet because my boyfriend attacked it before I could take a picture of my own.
This one is a bit more red than mine was, but if you want it like this add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste to the mix as well.
Anyway you make it, it’s awesome.