Well here I am, back as promised. Last night I cooked a quick, delicious and fabulously inexpensive dinner--and a somewhat unusual one, too. I'd like to share it with you.
I've written on the blog about the necessity, for me, that the meals I eat out--and the ones that I cook, too--are cheap (thus the Cheap Eats section on this site). Well, now that I'm living on my own and paying rent for the first time in my life, that's more important than ever. It's also of supreme importance, nowadays, that whatever I make for dinner be fast-cooking and relatively simple to make. I'm currently working 7 days a week (yes, you read that right), and while I still want to cook for myself it can be a bit of a challenge to get in front of a hot stove after a long day. Luckily, the meal I made last night fit the bill on both those counts.
What I made was a squid, white bean and tomato stew. Also known as calamari, squid is quite cheap and is a nice protein option when you're sick of the usual suspects like chicken, beef, fish, tofu or beans. I got my squid from the specialty foods store I work at, which is highly overpriced, for $8.99/lb (with my employee discount applied it cost $6.75/lb). That's not a bad price, but you can definitely find it cheaper, usually around $6.50/lb and even less in Chinatowns and Asian supermarkets. Anyway, I digress. The point is, squid is inexpensive and tasty and we should cook with it more often. When you buy it, just make sure it looks very white and non-slimey and that it has no fishy odor whatsoever.
For this simple and very last-minute stew all I did was sweat some onions and garlic, added some chicken broth, canned crushed tomatoes, canned white beans (aka cannellini), crushed red pepper flakes and dried oregano, brought it to a simmer and then slipped in some cleaned and rinsed calamari--both the tentacles (my favorite part: mmm, tentacles) and the bodies, sliced into rings. Now at this point you can go two ways: you can cook the stew just 4-5 minutes more, taking it off the heat as soon as the squid is cooked through, or you can let it simmer on the stove for about 25 minutes more. There is a culinary saying about squid that goes something like "cook it for 1 minute or 1 hour" which isn't entirely correct but which is good to keep in mind. That is, in order to ensure a tender final product, squid must be cooked very very quickly (think fried calamari) or low and slow. I opted for the latter because once all the chopping and stirring was done all I had to do was sit and play with my cat as my apartment filled with the enticing aromas of the bubbling pot on the stove. Also, cooking the stew longer will meld all the flavors better and produce a thicker, more luxurious broth. And who doesn't like a luxurious broth? The whole endeavor was still over and done with in 35 minutes, and the resulting dish was nourishing, satisfying and even a little bit out of the ordinary. Beat that, Rachel Ray.
Squid, White Bean and Tomato Stew
1. Over medium-low heat, sweat half of a large white or yellow onion, finely chopped, in some olive oil. Add some kosher salt, two minced garlic cloves, some crushed red pepper flakes and some dried oregano, to taste.
2. Add one small can (14 oz.) of low-sodium chicken broth, 1 small can (14.5 0z.) of crushed tomatoes, and one small can (15.5 oz.) of rinsed and drained white beans (cannellini beans) and stir gently to combine, taking care not to crush the delicate beans. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
3. Once the stew is simmering, add 1 pound of cleaned and rinsed squid, both the tentacles and the bodies, sliced into rings. Continue to simmer until stew is thickened and squid is tender, about 20 - 25 minutes. Serve in bowls, garnishing each portion with a spoonful of extra-virgin olive oil and some chopped fresh parsley.