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Stuffed Squid…

I don’t think Shirley Conran and I would get along. She thinks life is too short to stuff a mushroom and I seem to have a fascination with stuffing just about any food I can get my hands on. Stuffed cabbage leaves are a winter staple in my house, I loved my recent dalliance with a stuffed marrow and last Saturday I feasted on these amazing garlicky stuffed tomatoes as suggested by Nigel Slater. Having exhausted all the vegetables I can think of stuffing, I needed a new challenge…

And what better than nature’s very own windsock in the shape of a whole squid? Inspired by another Nigel Slater recipe from last week’s Observer Food Monthly and some stunning looking squid on my local fishmonger’s counter, I couldn’t resist.

After getting the fishmonger to clean the squid, my eye was caught by the last of the beautiful rainbow hued Bright Lights chard in the garden and I decided to base the stuffing around this. I also dug out the last of the wonderful breadcrumbs from the freezer from a stunning rye loaf from the Tebay farm shop to add a nutty hint of flavour to it all. A pinch of mace, a slug of olive oil and some lemon zest followed suit. But the crowning glory was the rest of the tin of smoked anchovies Mister North gave me for my birthday. These add a stunning depth of rich complexity to the already amazing umami taste of these fabulous little fish.

I combined everything and stuffed the squid as full as I could get it without ripping the beautiful soft flesh. The excess stuffing went round them and tentacles and I dotted them with the very last few Tumbler tomatoes from the garden before covering them in a rich tomato sauce made with the leftover oil from the anchovies and a few home grown chillies for a kick. Add in a splash of vegetable stock and it was ready to go in the oven for around 45 minutes.

It looked majestic when I opened the casserole dish. The tomatoes had intensified in the colour to a deep ruby red flecked with a hint of emerald from the chard and the milky white squid bathed in it like a less malevolent Moby Dick. It was so soft and tender from the long slow cooking that it was quite difficult to lift out of the dish without it falling apart. I served it with some of the Shetland Blue potatoes from the garden and well anointed with the silky soft tomato sauce and it was fantastic.

The squid cut beautifully and was delightfully tender with just enough of a bite to keep it interesting. The stuffing was umami and iron rich and the tomato sauce was sweet and tasted of the summer we didn’t really have. It was great with the potatoes to soak it up, but even with that, I had a lot of sauce leftover. I froze this to eat with pasta some night or to form the base of a quick fish stew.

I can’t think of a single flaw with this dish. Easy to make, perfect for using up odd and sods in the fridge in the sauce or stuffing and stylish enough to serve at a dinner party or as a Friday night treat at the end of a hard week. Try it with baby squid to cut the cooking time, because this dish is so good you’ll be driven to distraction waiting to taste it!

I’m a sucker for spicy octopus tentacles…

Spicy Portuguese-style octopus stew

I bought a big bag of frozen octopus for a few quid on a whim before Christmas from an Asian supermarket: every now and then I’ve idly wondered how I’d be best tackling them in the kitchen. I’ve often thought some kind of Iberian treatment would be good – garlic, olive oil, onions and tomatoes would be natural bedfellows – and after my recent visit with Miss South to Estrela, where the polvo was divine, I was tempted by tentacles.

A cursory scout on the web for Portuguese octopus recipes didn’t provide anything definitive, but then I often spend a bit of time online just to get inspiration from flavours and pairings of ingredients. I had a range of directions to follow, a range of references, and a healthily stocked kitchen, so I decided to freestyle it a bit. The aim was to end up with a warming and spicy octopus stew. I think I nailed it…

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