Thursday, 18 February 2010

Calamari with wild greens (Θράψαλα με άγρια χόρτα)

Today I am cooking with two ingredients that I use no more than twice a year - and always in combination. When I am given one, I buy the other, and cook this wonderful stew.

Fennel bulbs are hardly ever produced locally for commercial sale. I have never bought them myself, because I am very lucky that my uncles give me a few fennel bulbs every year from their garden - to date, they are the only people that I know in Crete who grow finnochio (as these are called in the trade). Finnochio is tender enough to be eaten raw, sliced into a salad, but I prefer its very subtle aroma and taste in a stew - and if you have never tried calamari and finnochio together, it's time you did.

thrapsala calamari

I recently bought some calamari from the supermarket. What caught my eye was the label - it came from New Zealand. New Zealand food items make a surprising appearance in Cretan supermarkets: lamb, seafood and kiwifruit are all very common. The mileage they have covered - needing to cross at least three continents before they arrive in Crete - sounds highly polluting, but I comfort myself in the thought that to get to Crete, this calamari was probably part of a large shipment of produce, loaded onto a cargo ship which called in at many ports along the way, being unloaded here and there, while more products from elsewhere were loaded onto the same ship, thereby offsetting most of the carbon footprints it left behind as it was making its journey across the world.

Fried calamari is very popular at tavernas all over Greece. This is what my kids usually order when we go out, which is why I didn't want to fry this calamari at home. I think it is a terrible shame that many Greek people go out to eat food that they often cook at home, especially since Greeks are nowadays more open to foreign tastes and new meal ideas, judging by the abundance of imported food items readily available in the supermarkets on a daily basis.

calamari and fennel bulb stew

Since I knew my calamari stew wouldn't be very popular with everyone in the house, I used only 2 of the 4 pieces that I bought (they were cellophaned-wrapped in two packets, each containing two calamari). Coincidentally, the whole dish consisted of leftover ingredients from other dishes, and it's probably the most complicated midday meal I've ever made, in terms of the number of ingredients it contains. I also cooked it the night before, so the flavours were enhanced by the next day when we ate it for the midday meal.

You need:
a few tablespoons of olive oil
an onion
1-2 cloves of garlic
2 medium-sized fresh (or defrosted) calamari, cut into large chunks (the calamari may be substituted with octopus or cuttlefish΄I used a kind of calamari known in Greece as 'thrapsala')
1 large finnochio (fennel bulb), chopped into thick slices (fennel is like an onion; they slices will disintegrate like pieces of onion)
1-2 cups of leftover spanakopita mixture (mine contained some finely chopped wild greens, spinach, fennel herb fronds, parsley, mint and cottage cheese)
a cup of shredded cabbage (this was actually leftover salad)
a glass of wine
a few tablespoons of tomato sauce (I used my own home-made bottled sauce)
a handful of small cured green olives (optional)
salt and pepper

Saute the chopped onion and garlic in the olive oil, then add the calamari and fennel pieces and let them take on a golden colour. Add the wine and let simmer for a few minutes, then add the tomato. When the liquids come to boiling point, turn down the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer at the lowest heat point until the calamari is done to your likeness (and we like it pretty soft).

If your spanakopita greens mixture did not contain any cheeses, this meal becomes lenten, perfect for the pre-Easter period coming up. Braised calamari goes really well with another of those taverna favorites - fried potatoes. Make sure you have it with some white wine too.

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