While I feel blessed that after fifteen years I managed to escape the restaurant industry, every now and again I can’t help but miss it… Not the hours, nor the mind numbing insanity of dealing with the general public for a living, but the camaraderie among the staff (people that have worked together at restaurants are akin to soldiers that were on tour in hostile territory together, it’s a bond that is never broken), and most definitely the food. So the other day I was having one of my nostalgic moments and I remembered a dish that I always ordered between shifts when I worked doubles (otherwise known as the “I hate my life shift”) at a restaurant called Café Colore… Their Fried Calamari Salad. The juxtaposition of having something salty and rich like fried calamari alongside crisp greens and vegetables, all brought together with the sweetness and acidity of a balsamic vinaigrette, is sheer perfection. When you are talking about dishes that are balanced and harmonious and delicious, this is near the top in my book.
Below is the recipe and wine pairings… enjoy.
1 1/2lb Fresh Calamari, washed, cleaned and sliced into rings/tentacles
5oz Mesclun Greens (also known as a Spring Mix, 5oz is the typical size of a bag)
2c Plum Tomato, diced
1c Sweet White Onion, sliced
6oz Shredded Mozzarella
1tbsp Grated Parmesan
3/4c Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/2tsp Salt (for salad)
1/2tsp Ground Black Pepper (for salad)
1/2tsp Cayenne Pepper (for salad, optional)
3/4c All Purpose Flour (for coating)
1tbsp Salt (for coating)
1tbsp Ground Black Pepper (for coating)
1tbsp Paprika (for coating)
48oz Vegetable Oil
Heat the vegetable oil to 350F in a large pot.
Set up a plate lined with paper towels to drain the calamari after frying.
In a large bowl combine the flour and seasoning for the coating, toss in the calamari and coat thoroughly. Carefully put the coated calamari in the hot oil, gently stir periodically to prevent them from sticking together. Cook until a light golden brown, 4-6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs remove the calamari from the oil and spread them out on the towel lined plate to let any excess oil drain off.
In a large bowl combine the mesclun greens, diced tomato, onion, mozzarella, and dressing and toss well, then add the drained calamari, croutons, cheeses and seasoning and toss again. The reason you do this in two stages is because if you pour the dressing directly over the calamari, croutons and cheese they will get soggy. This way the dressing is already distributed evenly beforehand and you’re less likely to end up with soggy ingredients.
Now let’s talk wine pairings… This is white wine all the way, and more specifically something light and crisp with some citrus notes to complement the greens, balance the richness of the calamari, and complement the acidity and sweetness of the dressing. Here’s what I recommend.
Mayu Sauvignon Blanc, Elqui Valley, Chile – Mayu is a relatively new producer, but they are a crucial focal point of the “New Chile” movement, along with wineries such as Clos des Fous and Merino. Their Sauvignon Blanc is a wonderful departure from what is typical of that varietal in Chile, missing is the overt “green” characteristic which I find very unappealing. The wine is medium bodied from partial malolactic fermentation, but still plays clean and crisp on the palate. Notes of grapefruit pith, lemon zest, subtle grass and herbs dominate, framed by moderate acidity and crunchy slate-esque minerality. A very impressive wine considering the price. PP Score: 88 (Retail $12-15)
Antxiola Getariako-Txakolina, Txakoli, Spain – Antxiola was founded in 1989 and immediately distinguished themselves as the best producer of Getariako-Txakolina in the newly created D.O. The wine is a blend of 90% Hondurrabi Zuri and 10% Hondurrabi Beltza (white varietals indigenous to the northern Basque region of Spain) taken from three small parcels located just outside of the village of Orio, just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean. In the glass you’ll find a light bodied wine that is crisp and vibrant, with a mild effervescence. On the palate are notes of lemon & lime zest, tart apple and subtle anise, with bracing acidity and a refreshing salinity. Ideal as an aperitif, with lighter fare (white fish, salad, etc.) or even firm cheeses. This wine is absolutely stunning, not to mention dangerous as it’s very easy to consume an entire bottle by yourself! PP Score: 91 (Retail $12-15)
ColleStefano Verdicchio Di Matelica, Marche, Italy – ColleStefano’s Verdicchio has consistently been one of the best white wines coming out of Italy for the past 15 years. The 15 hectare estate has been in the family for decades, but it wasn’t bottled and sold under the name ColleStefano until Fabio Marchionni took over in 1998, and it didn’t take long for him to find his stride. In the glass you find a medium bodied wine that is pale straw in color with slight green hues on the edges. The bouquet exhibits notes of citrus zest, honeydew and subtle crushed rock. On the palate are nuances of lemon zest, orange blossom, and white peach, accentuated by sharp acidity that is softened by the slightly creamy texture. With only 6,000 cases produced this is not necessarily the easiest wine to find, but it is certainly worth the search. I repeat, this is one of the best white wines, at any price point, coming out of Italy… and it’s under $20! PP Score: 95 (Retail $13-16) *Practicing Organic
So there you have it, the recipe for my favorite salad of all time, as well as my recommended wine pairings. I hope you enjoyed the read, and will try the recipe and the wines. As always, new content is coming soon. In the meantime crack open a bottle of Txakoli and drink the whole damn thing all by yourself! Life is short, enjoy it.
Pictures from my visit with Antxiola, January 2014…