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Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo

Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo Plated
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This Calamari Ragu 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 Ragu 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. 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.

Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo Memory

My First Pasta with Calamari . . .

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 Ragu 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 Ragu 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 body (cut up into rings) can be used in this recipe.
  • Calabrian Chile Paste and Crushed Red Pepper: 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.
  • 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.⁠

Step-By-Step, Pro-Tips included!

Here are the main steps for how to make this Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo:

  • Prep and measure all ingredients. Combine the oil, garlic and anchovy and cook 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 Ragu Fra Diavolo In Process
  • Add the calamari 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 serve. 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 Ragu Fra Diavolo Plated

Recipe Variations for Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo

Here are a few ideas to change up this Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo 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.

What to Serve With Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo

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 Ragu Fra Diavolo Plated

Kitchen Tools & Cookware for Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo

To make this Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo recipe, you will need the following:

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Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo Plated

Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo

Michele
This Calamari Ragu 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.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 50 mins
Total Time 1 hr 5 mins
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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
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1 thought on “Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo

  1. 5 stars
    Looking forward to trying this recipe. I love calamari and have never made it this way.

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