Posted on Updated on 14 Comments

Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo

Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo Plated.
This post may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. That means if you click on my link and buy something, I will earn a small commission from the advertiser at no additional cost to you. For more information on this, please click here.

This Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo is a savory combination of tender, slow-cooked calamari in a rich tomato sauce that has been seriously spiked with two forms of heat. The calamari is braised until it has just the right texture, imparting its fantastic flavor to the sauce along the way. Despite this dish needing some cooking time to break down the calamari, it is actually very simple to prepare with a few key ingredients. Keep reading for more!

Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo Plated

What exactly is “Fra Diavolo”?

Literally meaning “brother devil”, fra diavolo is an Italian-American invention that customarily refers to seafood (almost always lobster) in a spicy tomato sauce, often served with linguine. It was likely invented in New York City in the mid-20th century, but its origins are blurry. And, as with many Italian-American dishes, there is no real agreement on what its ingredients or recipe are.

In general, though, a fra diavolo involves lobster being cooked in its shell in a rich, spicy tomato sauce with lots of garlic and oregano. It’s a very satisfying dish usually found in “red sauce” restaurants in the northeast US.

Here, I’ve taken inspiration from the classic Italian stew, calamari in umido. I switched out the traditional lobster for calamari, toned down the oregano a bit and approached this as a pasta sauce. The result is a highly-seasoned, seafood-based ragu with a great, chunky texture from the tender calamari.

One Minute or One Hour . . .

I can still hear my favorite culinary school instructor, Chef Scanlan, waving his finger at the class and repeating, “Always cook calamari one minute or one hour!” What he meant was that calamari can be cooked in one of two ways: for the blink of an eye, as in fried or grilled calamari, or for a longer time so that it passes through the middle cooking stage when it is unappetizingly rubbery.

This dish takes the long view of cooking the calamari, as does Calamari, Potato and Peas. The calamari tubes and tentacles are quickly sautéed with aromatics, then slowly simmered in a savory tomato sauce until they turn into a luscious, tender experience that is both comforting and sublime.

Check out Quick and Easy Spicy Sauteed Calamari for an example of the short approach to cooking calamari.

Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo Memory

What Inspired This Recipe

I vividly remember the first time that I had pasta with calamari. It was the summer between my junior and senior years at college, and I had proactively planned a trip up to New York City filled with “informational interviews” scheduled at many of the (then) “Big 6” public accounting firms as part of my job search process. (I was a VERY driven accounting major back then hoping to get a job in Manhattan after graduation.) My mom came along with me for company.

It was an intense couple of days, but fortunately that grind was complemented by an evening out with my college roommate Liz and her mom Betty (who lived on Long Island). They took us to dinner on Mulberry Street in Little Italy (my first time there!) for a red sauce-filled evening. I remember ordering AND LOVING the pasta with calamari and can still taste the flavor and texture of it today, all these years later. The evening was capped off at the famous Ferrara Bakery and I can still recall the iced hazelnut gelato/coffee drink that I had to this day. My crazy food memory – it’s a blessing. And a curse.⁠

This Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo is my homage to that memorable dish from back in the 90s . . .with ALL the love that memory conjures up for me.⁠

Ingredients

To make this Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo, we will be using the following ingredients:

  • Calamari: Sometimes fresh calamari is difficult to find. I generally use a high-quality frozen calamari that is pre-cleaned, saving me lots of time. Cleaned fresh squid comes at a premium at the fish market, but is worth it in my opinion. Having said that, cleaning squid is not difficult, just time consuming (and a bit slimy), as the outer skin, innards and all cartilage must be removed. (Click here for a great resource on the process.) Once fully cleaned, both the tentacles and calamari rings can be used in this recipe.
  • Calabrian Chile Paste and Red Pepper Flakes: As this ragu is fra diavolo, it contains a significant heat factor. We achieve that heat factor in this recipe by using both Calabrian chile paste and crushed red pepper. Calabrian chile paste (a.k.a., peperoncino paste) is made from, you guessed it, Calabrian chili peppers (from the southern Italy region of Calabria, known for the heat in its dishes) and usually some vinegar, olive oil and salt. Different brands will taste slightly different, but they all add spicy heat, salt and a bit of smokiness to a dish–tons of flavor! The dried crushed red pepper amps up the overall heat factor of the dish even more. Feel free to adjust these two ingredients up or down to your liking!
  • Canned Tomatoes: I prefer to use whole tomatoes that I then crush by hand, as they are less processed than other varieties. But, you can certainly use diced, crushed or even tomato puree in this recipe. Fresh cherry tomatoes are also an option.
  • Anchovy: The anchovies dissolve into the olive oil early in the cooking process, contributing a subtle, but significant, briny- and salti-ness.
  • Oil: Use olive oil or the oil that comes with the anchovies for added flavor. It’s used here to sauté the garlic and calamari.
  • Pasta: I used linguine here, but this recipe works really well with many types of long pasta shapes, such as bucatini, spaghetti and would be especially nice with this squid-ink tonnarelli.
  • Garlic: No explanation necessary! Other than to say, chopped, minced or thinly sliced all work well – just depends on what you feel like doing! And, feel free to add more or use less based on your personal preference.
  • Herbs: We use both fresh (parsley) and dried (oregano and basil) herbs in this dish, each contributing its own uniqueness and flavor to the final product.

A complete and detailed list of ingredients with amounts and instructions is included in the recipe below.⁠

Calamari Pasta Step-By-Step, Pro-Tips included!

Here are the main steps for how to make this Calamari Pasta recipe:

  • Prep and measure all ingredients. Combine the oil, garlic and anchovy and cook over medium low heat until the anchovy has mostly dissolved. Stir in the chile paste, crushed red pepper and half the parsley and cook a few more minutes.
    • PRO-TIP: Use the anchovy oil for increased flavor!
Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo In Process
  • Add the squid rings and tentacles and sauté for a couple of minutes. Then, stir in the tomatoes, water, dried herbs, salt and black pepper. Simmer the mixture about 45 minutes, or until the calamari are very tender.

  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. ⁠ Once the water comes to a boil, add salt, then the pasta, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package directions, or about 2 minutes before you think it is al dente. Be sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.
    • PRO-TIP: Don’t skimp on the water! Use a large pot with 5 to 6 quarts water for 1 pound of pasta. And, bring the water to a boil before adding the salt. The water will boil a little more strongly for a second when you do so, and this will ensure that the salt is dissolved immediately. If you add the salt to the pot when the water is cold, it may just deposit on the bottom of the pot. Use 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp salt.

  • Once the calamari are at the desired level of tenderness, transfer the cooked pasta and some pasta water to the pan with the sauce and toss well, allowing the pasta to finish cooking in the delicious flavors of the sauce. Fold in remaining parsley and drizzle with some high quality extra virgin olive oil if you would like for a bit more richness and flavor. That’s it!
    • PRO-TIP: The sauce can be made 2 to 3 days in advance. It also freezes really well and can be held in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo Plated

Recipe Variations for Calamari Pasta

Here are a few ideas to change up this seafood pasta recipe:

  • Make it Whole Grain or Gluten-Free: Just switch out the traditional pasta for a whole wheat or gluten-free pasta.
  • Puttanesca it: Add some capers, chopped, oil-cured and black olives to this and it will have the sharp flavors of a Pasta alla Puttanesca.
  • Cancel the Fra Diavolo! If heat is not your thing, no problem! This dish will still be so delicious without any of the Calabrian chile paste or crushed red pepper.
  • Add Peas: Calamari and peas are a natural pairing and go together so well. Feel free to fold some into the ragu a couple of minutes before adding the hot pasta.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the secret to cooking calamari? How do you cook calamari so it is not chewy?

Proper cooking technique! As I mentioned above, calamari is unique in that it should either be cooked very quickly (for 1 to 2 minutes), as in this recipe or a traditional fried calamari. Or, it should be cooked longer (closer to one hour) until it passes through the unpleasant rubbery stage and arrives at a very appealing tenderness. This should result in perfect calamari every time.
 
In the case of fried calamari, many cooks swear by tenderizing the calamari in a milk/salt mixture to ensure its tenderness. I have never actually found the need to do this.

What is the difference between calamari and squid?

Calamari” is the Italian word for “squid” and is basically the culinary name of dishes containing squid.
 
But, the answer to this question varies. According to some, calamari and squid are different species within the class cephalopoda and squid is cheaper and tougher while calamari is more tender and expensive.
“Those two words are like ahi and tuna,” says Mike Vujevic of Bob’s Seafood. “Ahi is a type of tuna, but the two terms are often used interchangeably.”

Can I make calamari sauce in advance and how long do Calamari Pasta leftovers last?

Calamari sauce sauce can be made 2 to 3 days in advance and held in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Also, the finished sauce freezes really well and can be held in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
 
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat them, covered, in a small skillet over medium low heat with a little bit of water until heated through.

What should I serve with Calamari Pasta?

Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo is a hearty, main course pasta, complete with lots of protein. I like to serve it with some sautéed broccoli rabe or spinach and a light green salad. And, of course, a glass of very dry, red wine will round the meal out well. Dessert should be light – perhaps biscotti and coffee, mixed fruit, or lemon sorbet.

Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo Plated

If you like this dish, check out these other spicy recipes: Easy Crab Pasta Sauce with Spaghetti and Lump Crabmeat, Spaghetti with ‘Nduja Sauce, Zucchini and Arugula, Spicy Garlic Shrimp, and Spicy Italian Marinated Mushrooms.

And, don’t forget to drizzle a little homemade Italian chili oil over this pasta for the final touch–it’s worth it!

For a few more seafood recipes, check out Shrimp Oreganata with White Wine Lemon Butter, Spaghetti and Crabs and Shrimp Scampi Pasta with Arugula.

Kitchen Tools & Cookware for Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo

To make this spicy calamari sauce, you’ll need the following:

More Great Recipes to Try

I hope that you are enjoying all of my Italian and Italian-American recipes!

If you’ve tried this or any recipe here, please let me know how it went in the comments below. I love hearing from you!

FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM to see more delicious food and what’s going on behind the scenes!

Finished and styled Calamari Pasta in decorative bowl.

Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo

Michele
This Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo is a super-savory combination of tender, slow-cooked calamari in a rich tomato sauce that has been seriously spiked with two forms of heat. The calamari is braised until it has just the right texture, imparting its fantastic flavor to the sauce along the way. Despite this dish needing some cooking time to break down the calamari, it is actually very simple to prepare with a few key ingredients.
4.91 from 11 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 people

Ingredients
  

  • 3-4 Tbsp olive or anchovy oil
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2-3 anchovy filets
  • 1 Tbsp Calabrian chile paste (See Note below.)⁠
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (See Note below.)⁠
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 pounds cleaned calamari, bodies sliced into ½” thick rings⁠
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, hand-crushed
  • 1/4 can water
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • Pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper⁠
  • 1 pound long pasta such as linguine, spaghetti or bucatini⁠ + salt for pasta water

Instructions
 

  • Combine the oil, garlic and anchovy in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Stir and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes until the anchovy has mostly dissolved. Stir in the chile paste, crushed red pepper and half the parsley and cook for 2 more minutes.
    3-4 Tbsp olive or anchovy oil, 2 Tbsp minced garlic, 2-3 anchovy filets, 1 Tbsp Calabrian chile paste, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Add the calamari and sauté for a couple of minutes. Then, add the tomatoes, water, dried herbs, salt and black pepper and gently stir until all ingredients are well-combined.
    2 pounds cleaned calamari,, 1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes,, 1/4 can water, 1/4 tsp dried basil, 1/4 tsp dried oregano, Pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper⁠
  • Cover the pan and bring the mixture to a light boil, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture has come to a boil, remove the cover and reduce the heat to a light simmer. Simmer the mixture about 40 to 45 minutes, or until the calamari are very tender. Stir the mixture regularly so that it does not stick or get clumpy. Add additional water if the sauce becomes too thick.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. ⁠ Once the water comes to a boil, add salt, then the pasta, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package directions, or about 2 minutes before you think it is al dente. Be sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.
    1 pound long pasta
  • Once the calamari are at the desired level of tenderness, transfer the cooked pasta and about ½ cup pasta water to the pan with the sauce and toss well, allowing the pasta to finish cooking in the delicious flavors of the sauce. Add additional pasta water of more moisture is needed. Adjust seasonings with additional salt and black pepper if necessary. Fold in remaining parsley, turn off the heat and transfer to a serving platter or bowl. Buon Appetito!

Notes

  • This recipe is meant to be spicy with a good amount of heat. Feel free to reduce the amount of chile paste and crushed red pepper to your personal preference.
  • Use a large pot with 5 to 6 quarts water for 1 pound of pasta. Bring the water to a boil before adding the salt. Use 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp salt.
  • The pasta water is key! Add it to the sauce along with the pasta for the additional moisture needed to finish cooking the pasta.
  • I paired this Calamari Ragu with linguine, but it works well with lots of other long pasta shapes, such as spaghetti, bucatini and spaghettone.
  • Top this with toasted breadcrumbs for a nice crunch!
  • The sauce can be made 2 to 3 days in advance. It also freezes really well and can be held in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
 
Recipe by Mangia With Michele. Please visit my site for more great cooking inspiration!
If you try this recipe, please share a photo on INSTAGRAM or FACEBOOK and tag it @MangiaWithMichele and #MangiaWithMichele. I’d love to see it!
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

14 thoughts on “Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo

  1. Wanted something special for a birthday dinner. Absolutely delicious.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the recipe, Arianna! Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  2. 5 stars
    Thank you for this recipe!!!! It was fantastic and sooooooo easy to make. A keeper for sure.

    1. So happy that you enjoyed it, Natasha! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    This turned out so good, better than how how was making for. Thank you for your recipe

  4. 5 stars
    Made for feast of the Seven Fishes & it was delicious! It was rich in flavor. The sauce smells heavenly when it’s cooking. Will definitely make again.

  5. 5 stars
    I made this recipe the other night for dinner for my son who’s visiting from Florida. We absolutely loved the sauce. The anchovies give the sauce a wonderful umami taste!!! I made this with bucatini. I will definitely keep this in my favorite recipe repertoire! Thanks Michele! ❤️

  6. 5 stars
    Definitely going to try the long cook method. Thankyou.

    1. Great! Let me know how it goes.

  7. 5 stars
    This recipe sounds delicious and I will definitely make it! I have never cooked calamari and I hope I don’t over cook it!

    1. Thank you, Craig! Looking forward to hearing how it goes. 🙂

  8. 5 stars
    This will be a first for me. Fried calamari a favorite of mine!! I would love and appreciate a recipe and how to make stuffed calamari. My mother=in=law would incllude it in her 7 fishes meal and it always made my mouth water.
    Thank you for all your wonderful recipes.
    God Bless.

    1. I hope you love this recipe, Ellen! It has been a hit with many. I will add Stuffed Calamari to my development list! Thank you for the suggestion.

  9. 5 stars
    Looking forward to trying this recipe. I love calamari and have never made it this way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating