La Calamarata; pasta & calamari from Naples
La Calamarata is a simple but very tasty seafood pasta dish!
‘La Calamarta’ is a Neapolitan recipe from Campania with calamari (squid) and calamarata pasta, a particularly appetizing pasta that resembles squid rings. I am totally hooked on this dish and make it quite often. It’s really tasty and easy to prepare because it’s based on only three basic ingredients: pasta, calamari and tomatoes. Yet, it brings all the flavor of the Mediterranean to the table. The sauce is one of the most simple you can find, but be careful. There are some rules to follow to get it really right. (go straight to recipe)
Of course, you can enrich this Neapolitan recipe with prawns, shellfish or other fish, as is sometimes done, but I prefer to stick to the original version. The secret to getting it right lies in the choice of ingredients.
The right ingredients!
The calamari for la calamarata need to be fresh and the tomatoes should ideally be Piennolo vine tomatoes. Of course getting hold of those tomatoes is difficult outside of Italy because they are grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and are not easily found abroad. However, there are bottled or canned Piennolo tomatoes exported to USA, UK and other countries or they are available to buy online. Alternatively you can use datterini or cherry tomatoes (which are what I used this time). It’s important that they are sweet and flavourful. Large watery salad tomatoes are not good!
The right type of pasta!
The calamarata pasta needs to be slow dried and extruded using bronze dies. In other words preferably from an artisan pasta maker. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this type of pasta; extruded pasta is pasta that’s forced through a die (a stamp or disc with holes shaped according to the type of pasta being made) to make the various shapes. then cut to the proper length and dried. The dough is almost always made from durum wheat, water, and salt (no egg), and the better quality pasta makers extrude their dough through bronze dies. Traditionally all pasta was made with bronze dies. As the dough is pressed through, the roughness of the holes in the all bronze dies creates a porous surface that facilitates cooking the pasta evenly, giving you a good ‘al dente’. This kind of pasta also absorbs more sauce.
Over time, manufacturers wanted to speed up the whole process for maximum profitability and replaced the bronze dies with ones lined with Teflon. These dies produce a pasta which is more yellow in colour and has a surface which actually repels the sauce, rather than absorb it!
The best artisan pasta is also dried more slowly, normally over a period of several days, and this makes it more flavorful. Commercial pasta makers usually dry at higher temperatures (70-80 C, 140-160 F)instead, and this eliminates some of the flavour. There is also black calamarata pasta (coloured with cuttle fish ink) which is delicious. I have made this recipe with just black pasta, just plain and a mix of both. I loved the look of the mixed one!
La Calamarata is simple to make!
Getting the right ingredients may be a challenge but making this dish is not. Apart from the three main ingredients I have mentioned, all you need is some olive oil, parsley, dry white wine, garlic and a red chili pepper (peperoncino).
In Naples, La calamarata is sometimes served ‘al cartoccio’, meaning the last 5 minutes of cooking take place in the oven. The pasta and sauce are mixed together and wrapped in aluminium foil or baking paper, cooked for 5 minutes in a hot oven and then served immediately. This is a great way to serve pasta when you have guests! Whichever way you serve La calamarata, I am sure you will love it!
(see the recipe on page 2)