Possibly one of the most Venetian dishes around, risotto al nero di seppia – squid ink risotto – is a feast for the eyes and the palate.
The glossy, black ink lends a briny, even earthy, flavour to this dish but above all gives it that characteristic deep, dark colour that inevitably leaves an impression on those not used to eating it.
In Venice (and pretty much anywhere on the Italian coast), squid can still be found with its ink sacs attached, especially at the fish markets or good fish mongers where the haul is as fresh as can be. Piles of white-fleshed squid, stained in black ink are a common sight at the market, where both squid and ink are valued ingredients and often used together. In other places, you can buy squid ink bottled or packaged. It's definitely less messy and just makes this dish even simpler. It can be somewhat thicker than fresh ink, so it can be diluted a little with some water if you like before adding to the pan.
Essentially, this is a two part recipe, where the squid is slowly braised in its own ink with wine, garlic, onion and tomatoes until tender. This is the body of the dish, where all the flavour, colour and intrigue lie. The rice is then toasted and cooked very simply with onion and fish stock. Halfway through cooking, the braised squid is added to the rice, where the magic begins as the rice begins to aborb the jet-black ink.
The squid and ink braise is also delicious as a sauce to be tossed with long pasta like linguine or spaghetti – and this becomes a traditional dish, that will take you all the way to the opposite end of the country, to Sicily. A hint of fresh chilli does not go astray in this case.
Strictly no cheese should be served with this dish, but plenty of black pepper – yes, please. —Emiko
4 to 6
clove garlic, sliced
(300 grams) squid, cleaned and cut into thin strips
Gently saute half the onion in olive oil until soft and slightly golden. Add the garlic and the squid, together with the ink. Cook for a few minutes then add the wine, tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer gently, covered, for half an hour or until the squid is soft, stirring occasionally and checking for tenderness. If needed, add some more water to the pan to keep it 'saucy'.
In a separate pan, saute the rest of the onion with the butter. Add the rice and toast it for a minute, stirring until it's covered in the butter. Add 1 cup of the stock and, over low heat, bring to a simmer. As the liquid reduces, keep adding stock by the cup. The rice will take about 17 minutes to cook in total; halfway through cooking, add the squid to the rice. Continue cooking and adding stock (in some cases, you may need to add some water as you want the rice to cook in plenty of liquid).
After 17 minutes the rice should be al dente and the risotto itself should still have a good amount of liquid in it. Take off the heat and toss the rice energetically to create creaminess – essentially you are emulsifying the liquid. The risotto should end up being what Italians call 'al onda', wave-like, which means when you put it on the plate (not a bowl, but a flat plate), it should be liquid enough that it spreads out when you bang the bottom of the plate gently with the palm of your hand. Serve immediately with chopped parsley over the top.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.