Strange as it may seem, squid and peas were made for each other. The sweetness of peas sets off the brinyness of squid perfectly. And the savoriness of a tomato sauce brings it all together nicely. This dish, as so many traditional Roman dishes, is really quite easy to make but very tasty.
Serves 4-6 persons
- 500g (1 lb) squid, cleaned and cut up
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 200g (1/2 lb) canned tomatoes, crushed or passed through a food mill
- 300-500g (1 lb) peas, frozen or fresh
- White wine
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
Sauté the chopped onion in olive oil until soft and translucent. Then add 500g (1 lb.) of cleaned and cut up squid (see Notes below). Allow the squid pieces to sauté along with the onion to absorb the flavors for a few minutes. (The squid will probably shed quite a bit of water, but that’s perfectly normal. No need to try to boil if off.)
Add a splash of white wine, allow it to evaporate and then add the tomatoes. Mix everything well, lower the heat. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the squid is quite tender. (Add water if the sauce becomes too dense.)
Then add the peas (or more or less if you want—there is no real ‘right’ amount) and continue simmering until the peas are just cooked, about 5 minutes for frozen, 15-20 for fresh.
Adjust for seasoning and serve immediately.
If there is any complication to this dish, it’s in the cleaning of the squid. Many places now you can buy pre-cleaned and pre-cut squid. Or you can ask your fishmonger to clean the squid for you. But if don’t have either option available, or you want to save some money, here is the procedure as demonstrated by our friends over at the Rouxbe Online Cooking School. It’s really quite easy once you get the hang of it. Then cut the body of the squid into rings about 2 cm (1/2 inch) wide.
By the way, the real dish is made not with squid, but with its ‘cousin’ the cuttlefish. But where I live, at least, cuttlefish is hard (if not impossible) to find, so I use squid, which is a perfectly fine substitute.
As for the peas, I generally use frozen peas, which are easy to find and really quite good. If you are using fresh peas, make sure they are really fresh. My own experience with fresh peas has been pretty disappointing—they tend to be ‘over the hill’, lacking sweetness and having a mealy texture.
There are basically two cooking times for squid: either very short, as in fried calamari, or quite long, as in this dish and many other ‘stewed’ dishes. Anything in between will result in toughness, so once you’re past just a minute or two, you need to keep going until the squid is done. But you can make this dish in less time with a pressure cooker. Once you are ready to simmer the squid and tomatoes, bring the cooker up to pressure and cook for 20-30 minutes. Then release the pressure and proceed as per the recipe. You may find that the sauce is a bit thin—there is very little evaporation in pressure cooking. If so, just simmer uncovered for a few minutes to reduce before adding the peas.
A recipe for seppie coi piselli, by the way, is mentioned in Artusi (1891). His version is made in bianco (without tomatoes) and the soffrito is made with garlic and parsley in addition to the onion. This recipe is taken from one of my old stand-bys, Le specialità della cucina romana: ricette tratte dalla tradizionale cucina casalinga. And, according to Le ricette regionali italiane (Solaris 1995) a similar dish—in a tomato sauce but minus the peas—is called sepe a’ la veneziana, or Venetian-style cuttlefish. A nearly identical dish to the Venetian one but made with calamari instead of cuttlefish, called calamari in umido, or stewed calamari, is included in La cucina napoletana (Newton Compton 1992). Clearly, this dish gets around…