Feta and Basil Stuffed Calamari
|Preparation Time: 60 minutes||Cooking Time: 45 minutes||Yield: 4-6|
The genesis of a recipe can be fascinating. A reader stopped me at the gym other day, and asked if I’d ever eaten calamari tubes stuffed with feta and basil. Seems he’d enjoyed the dish at a local restaurant, and wanted to replicate the dish at home.
That was more than enough to send me off on a wild goose chase, in search of a suitable recipe, but after trawling the Internet, and my not inconsiderable collection of recipe books – from Larousse Gastronomique to Stephanie Alexander’s “The Cook’s Companion” all the way from the land of sheep and South African ex-pats – ended up drawing a blank.
Granted, there was an abundance of stuffed calamari recipes, but not one included either basil or feta cheese. It was times to call in the big guns, so I consulted with Kevin Calitz who chef’s at Paul Boutinot’s fine dining in the sky eatery at Waterkloof Estate, and between us we came up with this recipe. Thanks Kev!
Finding the calamari was much easier. I needed medium sized tubes, plus the legs to include in the stuffing, so I headed for my favourite fishmonger where there is always a wide variety of fabulous seafood on sail, and sure enough they had just what I needed, in a deep frozen 1kg pack.
Ingredient Selection and Preparation
1kg calamari: There are three possible packaging configurations. 1. Cleaned tubes with no leg or innards 2. Cleaned tubes with innards and legs included in the pack. 3. Whole calamari. Number 2 is the best, because you don’t have to disassemble the calamari, and you do have the legs to add to your stuffing.
If you get number 3, do as follows: 1. Grasp the body of the calamari just below the edge of the tube, and grasp the tip of the tube with the other hand, and gently draw them apart. The innards and legs should separate cleanly from the tube. 2. Remove the clear plastic-like “cuttle” from the tube, and strip off the greyish skin. 3. Rinse well and set the tubes aside.
Grasp the legs firmly where they connect to the innards, and squeeze gently. The beak will pop out from between the legs. Remove it and discard. Separate the legs from the innards, and discard the innards. Rinse the legs well and set aside.
Either mince the legs, or chop them very finely with a sharp knife.
Set aside between four and five tubes per serving, and mince or finely chop the balance for use in the stuffing.
3 plump shallots: peeled and finely chopped.
2 rounds of feta cheese: crumbled.
6-8 Peppadews®: finely chopped. Interestingly enough, Peppadew® is a registered trademark name for the bottled pickled product, rather than the name of an actual pepper (capsicum). They’re available at most supermarkets.
20 basil leaves: chifonnaded. To chifonnade basil, rinse and dry the leaves, stack them one on top of the other, roll tightly, and slice very finely. You want long, thin slivers.
1tbsp fish sauce: an ingenious product of South East Asia, known variously as nuoc mam (Vietnam), nam pla (Thailand), ngan bya yay (Myanmar) and teuk trei (Cambodia), it is made by fermenting anchovies and salt in wooden boxes and gradually pressing out the intensely flavour salty liquid. It is well know for imparting umami or savouriness to dishes in which it is used.
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 x 400g can peeled chopped Italian tomatoes: blitz them in the can with a stick blender. You want a virtual tomato puree in which to poach the stuffed calamari tubes.
250ml dry white wine: I used the wine I matched with the dish: 2009 Groote Post Unwooded Chardonnay.
4tbsp olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C.
Heat a small pan and add 2tbsp olive oil. Add the chopped shallots and sweat until golden brown and soft.
Combine the chopped legs (and tubes if you included some), crumbled feta cheese, peppadews, basil, fish sauce and pepper. Add the fried shallots and mix well.
Tip the filling into a stout plastic bag, and cut off one corner to make a hole no more than a centimetre wide. You now have a piping bag for stuffing the calamari tubes, because trust me, using a teaspoon is just not an option. I have dear wife Eppie, to thank for this. She sat and watched me fill one tube with a teaspoon, which took about three minutes before she made the suggestion. I have much for which to be grateful!
Liberally oil a casserole dish large enough to take all of the tubes in a single layer with the remaining 2tbsp of olive oil.
Fill each tube ¾ full and secure with a cocktail stick. Arrange the tubes in the casserole dish.
Combine the blitzed tomatoes and the dry white wine, and pour over the calamari tubes.
Place in mid-oven for 45 minutes, turning the tubes after 30 minutes. When you can easily poke a sharp pointed knife through the tube flesh, they are done.
Serve as is as a starter, or with basmati rice and a crisp green salad as a main course. Enjoy!
Lukas Wentzel is graced with some fabulous terroir on the slopes of the Darling Hills, overlooking the gracious old Groote Post cellar building far below, where he gets the grapes that go into his Groote Post Unwooded Chardonnay. The Hutton and Oakleaf soils in which the vines grow impart a distinct mineral character to the wine, which sits nicely alongside the fruit components.
The 2009 vintage is a lovely pale yellow in colour, and exudes whiffs of marmalade and ginger under a citrus fruit complex, all of which follow onto the palate.
The palate is broad and rich, with balancing acidity, and a long succulent finish.