In one of my favorite parts of Tuscany, not the cypress-studded hills of Chianti, but by the coast, up a steep and squiggly lane behind Porto Santo Stefano, is a restaurant called La Fontanina. And there, I ate this, or rather its inspiration: a flat bowl of calamari-shaped pasta, almost indistinguishable — until that first tender bite — from the actual squid rings which, glistening with garlic-infused wine, composed the sauce. I thought about this when I came back, but it wasn't until, in a favorite deli (some years on from that first sampling), I stumbled across a packet of pasta called "i calamari" — in a powder-blue paper packet, made by Voiello, shape no. 142 — that I determined to make it myself. It's silly really, as the heavenly taste doesn't rely on the culinary pun, but the delight we get from food is complex. The more universally stocked De Cecco range does have a mezzi rigatoni shape that would stand in respectably; and, of course, you are free to use any pasta shape — I sometimes feel a counter-intuitive pull toward fusilli.
Serves 4-6, as a main meal
1 pound pasta, as close to calamari-ring shape as possible
salt, to taste
1 pound baby squid (cleaned weight), sliced, tentacles left whole
2 tablespoons regular olive oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 fresh chili, seeded and diced
1/2 cup dry white vermouth or white wine
1/4 cup pasta cooking water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
handful chopped parsley
Put a large pan of water on to boil for the pasta. Once it is boiling, salt the water and add the pasta to cook following the package instructions. Then get on with your squid sauce.
Cut the squid into approximately 1/2-inch rings. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the scallion for 1 minute, then grate in the garlic and add the chopped chili, stirring well.
Add the squid rings and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Pour in the vermouth (or white wine) and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes or until the squid is tender and the wine boiled down quite a bit. Lower in a cup measure to retrieve some water from the pasta pan and stir about 1/4 cup into the squid pan along with the butter; it will look liquidy, but do not panic.
Drain the pasta and add to the squid, tossing everything together well. Sprinkle with the parsley and work that through, then serve.
Excerpted from Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home by Nigella Lawson. Copyright 2010 Nigella Lawson. Excerpted by permission by Hyperion & Co.