This one’s from the Maltese Ex-Pat.
“What’s the food like in America?” is a question I’ve gotten a number of times since moving here from Europe. The question reveals the gulf of mutual ignorance on either side of the ocean. Can one talk of “American” food like one can talk of Italian, French and Spanish food?
Enter the European stereotypisation of America; giant portions of burgers, steaks, hot dogs and chicken wings. An unflattering image of simple, fattening food. The polar opposite of the complex, naturally healthy gourmet food on every table in Europe.
But just like the actual Arctic and Antarctic poles, these areas are more alike than they are different. There’s no shortage of fast food in Europe, the same western tendencies away from traditional food and towards ready-meals, frozen food and junk are now well entrenched. In America as well as in Europe, a more recent reaction to this trend in the form of the organic and slow food movement is well underway.
“So, what’s the food like in America then?”. Europeans might be surprised to learn that Americans are obsessed with food. From gourmet burgers to sushi, a Neapolitan thin-crust to the quest for the perfect taco. They can wield chopsticks with eastern precision while explain the difference between a burrito and a chimichanga.
They take their search for quality and choice to the supermarket. Aisle after aisle of groceries from all over the world and a proliferation of organic and fair trade offerings. But as I wander up and down the beautifully curated shelves of my local “Whole Foods”, my eyes fall on a pile of mutilated shrimp and I start to miss my home country on the southern periphery of Europe.
Headless and de-veined, ‘EZ-peel’ they call it. Just like the rabbit I bought (took some finding), head, heart and lungs gone and legs stuffed into the carcass like a chicken. All the pitted olives, filleted fish and sliced bread. Everything is ready to eat for a squeamish public. If this is “whole” food, where are the heads? I think the most impressive part of my rabbit dinner for my American dinner guests was the fact that I could butcher the animal myself.
In comes American diversity to save the day, in the seafood section of C-Mart in Boston’s Chinatown I come across some whole, unadulterated squid at a bargain price. A great opportunity to cook another taste from home: .
Klamari mimlija (stuffed squid)
Cleaning the squid (video, WARNING: DON’T CUT OPEN THE SQUID!!!)
- Thoroughly rinse the squid with cold water. Grab the head and the tentacles. Pull the heads off gently, making sure to keep the outer tubing intact. The head should detach with the tentacles and an inner sack still attached.
- Within the outer tube there is a thin plastic looking cartilage spine that you can pull out quite easily. Pull this out.
- Examine the inside of the outer tube, gooey squid mush might be stuck there. Remove if present.
- Cut the tentacles off just under the eyes and remove the plastic beak in two halves is squeezed out from the center. Chop the tentacles up into small pieces.
Stuffing the squid
- Various stuffing can be added. Popular stuffing includes, fried tentacles and tuna with capers and parsley. My family stuffs our squid with ricotta. NOTE: Grocery packaged ricotta tends to be too sweet and not sufficiently dense. Luckily, my better half stumbled across a giant block of fresh ricotta at an Italian deli; this is the real stuff.
- Mix ricotta with eggs, parsley, salt and pepper.
- Insert the stuffing into the squid, fill them up ½ or ⅔ full. Squid shrinks as it’s cooked and has a tendency to burst if filled too much. Close the outer tube up with a toothpick.
Tomato Sauce for the squid
- Begin by frying the tentacles separately. Once the tentacles have turned purple remove from heat.
- Chop onion in wedges and mince garlic, fry until golden. Note: The garlic complements the flavor of squid better than onion, so be sure to put plenty of garlic and go easy on the onion.
- Add stuffed squid tubes to onion and garlic mix, tentacles, chopped fresh mint, crushed chili, whole black olives and bay leaves and cover with tomato puree.
- Once the mixture has started to bubble, turn it on low and turn the squid over occasionally. Stuffed squid needs to cook through before the tomato sauce burns, so give it adequate time (40 mins or so) on a low heat. Add water to the sauce if it gets too dry.
- A few minutes before completion, add capers and thicken the sauce with corn flour if necessary.
- Serve the stuffed squid on top a bed of linguine (the go-to pasta for seafood) with a generous helping of sauce.
- Warn your dinner guests about the inedible bay leaves, olive stones and toothpicks and enjoy with a glass of wine. NOTE: Although white wine is more usual with seafood the tangy tomato sauce will also compliment a red wine.
If you’ve achieved all these steps, there’s only one thing left to do….