The rules for cooking squid are simple: it needs to be either hot and fast or long and slow. Anything in between will yield a plateful of rubber bands. I usually reserve the hot and fast route for summer days, the squid scored and flashed “a la plancha” in a pan so it curls into chequered tubes, or lightly battered and plunged into hot fat, a “fritto” to serve with lemon or a bright-flavoured sauce. But in autumn and winter, as the sun retreats, braising seems a far more fitting strategy. As the squid cooks, turning softly yielding, it shares its flavour with the ingredients around it, creating a rich and satisfying stew. It is exactly the sort of thing I feel like eating at the moment.
75ml (5 tbsp) good olive oil, plus a splash or two extra
1 medium onion, peeled and finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 pinches dried chilli flakes
1 bay leaf (or 2 if small)
Leaves from 2 sprigs thyme, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g medium squid tubes and tentacles, cleaned
150ml dry white wine
400g tin chopped tomatoes, any big lumps broken up
½ tsp sugar
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
50g ditalini or other very small pasta shapes
3 handfuls roughly chopped flatleaf parsley
Cut the squid tubes into slices 1cm thick. Divide the clusters of tentacles lengthways into 2-3 pieces.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, chilli, bay and thyme, plus a pinch of salt, and sweat gently for 8-10 minutes until the onion is soft, but not brown.
Stir in the squid, then add the wine and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced and syrupy.
Add the tomatoes, sugar and chickpeas. Season lightly – remembering that the squid will add some salt – and make sure the pieces of squid are submerged in the liquid.
Bring to the boil, over with a lid, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 40-45 minutes or until the squid is soft, but still with a bit of texture.
Add a wine glassful of water and a couple more pinches of salt. Bring to a boil, add the pasta, making sure it is submerged, then replace the lid and cook for 10 minutes more, or until the ditalini are cooked.
Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Depending on your tomatoes, you may also need a pinch more sugar.
Stir through ¾ of the chopped parsley, then decant into bowls. Add a trickle more olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley before serving.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book is Good Things to Eat.