Way back in 2011, Megs and I shipped up to Boston to hang with some of our best buds. Boston’s North End, the stomping ground of said friends, is an Italian American wonderland with more pastry shops, espresso bars, peroni kegs and chicken parm specials than you can shake an olive branch at. Amidst the chaos of Mike’s Pastries and places named Vesuvio or Bella Cucina stands The Daily Catch famous for one thing: Pasta Nera con Calamari.
The dish above, recommended by my pops after years of loyal devotion, is the staple of this fine establishment and something altogether brilliant. The hand rolled, dense and dark pasta is soaked in an oily crumble of ground calamari, parsley, garlic and breadcrumbs leaving one stunned and chuckling over the simple genius of it’s flawless construction.
I realize, of course, that finding fresh-cut Pasta Nera is a formidable task, but if you’re ever in Asheville (as we were this past weekend) try stopping by the farmers market for a score of the good stuff. It can also be ordered online or made using my basic pasta recipe and adding a tablespoon of Sepia (squid ink). Only one thing to do now: recreate that radical dish and let the Narragansett-drenched memories come flying back:
Pasta Nera con Calamari
1lb Fresh Squid-Ink Pasta (or dry if you cannot find fresh)
4 Large Cloves Garlic (sliced thinly)
1lb Fresh Squid (Cleaned, Rinsed and Patted Dry)
1 Handful Chopped Parsley
1/2 Cup Toasted Fresh Breadcrumbs
Salt, Pepper, Chile Flakes, E.V. Olive Oil
This all happens fairly quickly so while you bring a large pot of water to a boil begin prepping your pieces:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil with plenty of salt (as always, it should taste like the ocean).
Using a Meat Grinder or Mezzaluna (or a knife and a shit-ton of elbow grease) chop your calamari into small pieces, roughly 1/4″ big. Set aside. A food processor will work but be sure to pulse in short bursts so the squid doesn’t turn to squid juice…not good eats.
Heat a large sauté pan on medium high heat and add your sliced garlic and a large pinch of chile flakes. Fry until just lightly golden and then add your chopped calamari. Drop your fresh pasta in as soon as the calamari drops into the frying pan. Fry the calamari for 1-2 minutes seasoning to taste, in which time your fresh pasta will be done.
Using tongs, drain the pasta and add to the sauté pan with the calamari and garlic add enough of the pasta water to keep everything moist. Cook together on high heat for 1 more minute, add the chopped parsley, a little cracked pepper and serve topped with a generous amount of toasted breadcrumbs.
If you’re using dry pasta give yourself at least 10 minutes after dropping the pasta before starting your sauce so the squid and garlic do not overcook. It’s a fast, aggressive recipe but it requires only a handful of quality ingredients and a little preparation before hitting the heat. What you end up with is a froth-of-the-sea scented pasta, chewy and rich smothered in tender calamari, humming garlic and spicy chile flakes anchored by toasted breadcrumbs and bright parsley.
What else can I say? It’s like your standard pasta’s evil twin sister wearing a jet-black bikini on a sun-soaked beach with a cooler full of Harpoons and a flagrant disregard for PDA! From Boston to Asheville to Raleigh this dish is a new Italian American classic in my book. All set!
SPARK NOTES:1.FRY SOME GARLIC 2.ADD CHOPPED CALAMARI 3.ADD PASTA NERA 4. SPLASH IN SOME PASTA WATER 5.TOP WITH BREADCRUMBS & PARSLEY 6.START TALKING WITH A BOSTON ACCENT