It’s squid season in Monterey. You know it’s squid season because at night the squid boats fill the bay all lit up. The photo above was taken by my Spanish friend Carmen and I asked her if I could use it for this post. She told me the silhouettes in the photo are her two niñas (girls) and she snapped this photo on an evening stroll the other day.
It has been a while seen I’ve been around long enough to cook squid during squid season. But things are different now.
Years ago, when I had just moved back in the area, I was coaching the cross country team of my high school. The head coach, who had been my track coach, geometry teacher, and who still holds several records at the high school for track & field from the 70’s, is a wealth of knowledge. He knows everything: how to change a tire, graft fruit trees, and clean squid. He was going through a rough time in his life so I asked him if he knew how to clean squid, knowing very well that he knew how to clean squid. “Of course I know how to clean squid. Why don’t you come over on Saturday and I’ll show you” he said and told me about how when he was a kid in Pacific Grove the fishermen would bring his dad their freshly caught fish and squid and fresh chicken eggs since he was one of the only doctors in town.
He invited me over for a drink and showed me how clean squid in his kitchen sink. I will forever associate pungent, whole Monterey squid, their gooey insides and quills with that afternoon at Mr. Light’s alongside gin and tonics. I love hanging out in kitchens, mine or other peoples’.
This past weekend my sister-in-law and I decided to escape the oppressive heat of Lemoore for a visit to Monterey. I mentioned that it was squid season and I liked to go to the commercial wharf and buy seafood. If we didn’t mind cleaning the squid, we could get fresh Monterey squid for half the price of already cleaned squid. She was in. We bought two pounds of local squid and brought it back with us to Lemoore.
This recipe for ricotta stuffed squid is easy although stuffing the squid takes a while. But it’s totally worth it. The filling reminds me of lasagna filling but with soft, chewy squid instead of pasta. You could serve it over rice or dip really good bread in the stewy part. I served it with a chilled Pinot Grigio but I think it would be excellent with a Riesling, lambrusco or young rosé as well.
Ricotta Stuffed Squid
- Two pounds whole squid
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2/3 pound full fat ricotta cheese
- 1/2 pound spinach, stalks discarded
- half a bunch of Italian parsley (the flat-leafed kind)
- 1 egg
- one 28 oz. can of stewed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- optional herbs for seasoning: basil, marjoram, thyme, oregano, etc.
- toothpicks to seal the stuffed tubes closed
Clean the squid. Holding the tube part of the squid with one hand, use your other hand to grab hold of the squid’s head firmly and pull the insides out. You also want to take out the quill, which feels like a hard piece of plastic. It should come out in one piece but if it doesn’t be sure to get it all out, it runs the length of the tubular mantle. Then you want to squeeze out the rest of the internal organs or stick your finger in and clear all the insides out. You can also peel off the skin although this isn’t necessary. The skin is edible but some people prefer to have the squid be white rather than a hue of speckled purple. Next, you will cut off the tentacles just above the eyes. Discard everything except the tubular mantle and the tentacles. I like to give everything a good wash after I have cleaned and separated it all.
Dice the tentacles and set aside.
In a skillet, heat the olive oil and butter until slightly sizzling. Add the onion and garlic until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the tentacles and sauté for a couple minutes. It should start smelling really yummy. Add the spinach and stir until well wilted. I would stir a little longer to let the excess liquid evaporate. Turn the heat off and set aside.
In a separate bowl add the ricotta, egg, and chopped parsley. Mix well and then add the spinach/tentacle mixture.
Heat oven to 375˚F. Grease a casserole dish with olive oil and set aside. Pour yourself a glass of table wine and put some soft music on that you like. Stuff the squid tubes with the ricotta filling and “thread” closed with a toothpick. You don’t want to stuff it too much, otherwise they will burst while cooking, like some of mine did. This threading looks like two pokes, near each end; in one side and back out the other. You are going to make a mess. Relax. Making a mess is part of cooking.
Place each stuffed and sealed squid in the greased casserole dish. Pour the stewed tomatoes and wine over; sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the herbs of your choosing.
Bake, covered for 20 minutes and then uncovered for another 20-25 minutes. Let sit for a good 10-15 minute before serving as it will be piping hot. Serve over rice or alongside good bread and a chilled white wine of your choosing, I prefer Riesling or a young rosé.