Occasionally (for me at least) I’ll accidentally come across something so delicious when I’m cooking that I surprise myself and generally consider it some sort of act of god, rather than my own doing. As you cook more and more you’ll have these Eureka moments when you think “holy shit. this rocks.” Or something like that, I don’t know exactly what kind of cook you are, but I like to think that I can occasionally elicit a profound, profane reaction
Squid is a strange culinary protein. First of all it’s downright weird in its gelatinous tubularity. Squid tubes don’t seem to come from an animal, but rather they remind me of something you might use as a prop in an alien horror movie. Delicious. Seriously though, they are sort of magical in their willingness to accept whatever flavoring you might impose upon the little mollusks (yes, the same phylum as snails and clams). In this case is was a rich and enriched tomato sauce with garlic, bacon, and fennel. In all seriousness, make something with these three ingredients and you’ll almost certainly have a hit. I’m not joking at all, the combination hits all the big flavour bases (sweet, salty, umami, herby) and includes flavouring wunderkind bacon. I can’t speak highly enough about it.

On to the main event. I can’t really take full credit for this recipe, I found it in a Tuscan cookbook that basically described a squid and tomato stew with peas and mint. Apparently the original dish, if you happen to be fortunately enough to live in Tuscany, also features garlic and does away with the peas and mint. Why mess with tradition, right? Of course I did anyway because bacon seemed prudent and the fennel from our farmer’s market is the bomb. If you want to try to recreate this little gem there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Squid needs to be cooked either extremely quickly (fried calimari) or for a long time, like in this stew. Basically you want to braise it for at least 45 minutes, or until tender.

2. Cook your aromatics first. The onions, fennel, and bacon should all be cooked before the squid goes in so the fennel is soft enough to match the texture of the squid and the bacon is suitably crispy and the fat can be rendered out (and into the sauce itself).

3. Tomatoes: you could certainly use fresh or a premade tomato puree sort of deal, I chopped up sow canned plum tomato (I like whichever package looks the most Italian).

If you can handle these basics, and you should be able to, then you’ll have a seriously epic, well-constructed, suitably strange meal for you and anyone you love enough to invite over for dinner.