Calamari filled with sultanas and rice
“More often than not, calamari is served in some deep-fried form. In this dish it is stuffed and slowly braised in a rich tomato sauce. One of the key stuffing ingredients is sultanas, which add a delicious and unexpected sweet dimension. Back in the 1930s in my home-town, Mildura, a man by the name of De Garis undertook a massive marketing campaign to promote locally grown sultanas. There were amazing cash prizes and other incentives, and for a while Australia became sultana crazy! Sadly, nowadays sultanas have become almost overlooked. They pop up in the odd fruit bun or breakfast cereal, but these tend to be cheaper imports from countries like Turkey. When it comes to quality and flavour, however, there is nothing to match the Mildura ‘five-crown’ sultana.”
4 medium-sized calamari
extra-virgin olive oil
a splash of white wine
salt and pepper
300 g cooked Italian rice
2 tablespoons dried sultanas, plumped up in a bit of weak tea and drained
2 tablespoons chopped fennel tips (use wild fennel if you can find it)
1 tablespoon salted capers, rinsed
1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest
2 eggs|4 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
|a sprinkle of grated pecorino
400 ml tomato sauce
2 fresh tomatoes, skinned and diced
Prepare the calamari by removing the heads, tentacles and wings. Keep the calamari tubes to one side and discard the heads. Finely chop the tentacles and wings.
Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and sear the chopped calamari quickly with a splash of wine and season with salt and pepper.
In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked calamari with the rice, sultanas, fennel, capers, zest, eggs, breadcrumbs and cheese. Mix well to form a soft stuffing. Add more seasoning and cook a little of the mixture to taste if you feel unsure about the seasoning.
Fill each calamari tube with stuffing, leaving a little space at the open end for the stuffing to expand. Secure the ends with toothpicks.
Heat the tomato sauce in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the stuffed calamari and cook gently until tender, 30–40 minutes.
Towards the end of the cooking time add the tomatoes to give texture and freshness to the sauce. The calamari themselves do not have great flavour; it is the combination of rich tomato sauce and tasty stuffing that makes the finished dish interesting.