Piles of white-fleshed cuttlefish stained with black ink are a common sight at the Rialto market, where both cuttlefish and its ink sac are valued ingredients and often cooked together. The glossy, black ink lends a deliciously briny, even earthy flavour to this dish, but above all, it lends it that deep, dark colour that makes it such a striking dish, especially when served over a bed of pearly white polenta, or stirred through pasta (bigoli, thick noodles – the only traditional Venetian noodle – would be ideal) or risotto. While squid ink (which you can also find sold as a separate ingredient, usually in a jar) may seem like an expensive or superfluous ingredient to some now, this is a dish that characterises cucina povera, the peasant side of Venice’s cuisine – this was once a dish linked to tougher times, when the only thing available to flavour some rice or polenta was the cheap, leftover ink after all the squid was already eaten. If you can, choose smaller cuttlefish for this.
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Seppie al Nero: Cuttlefish Stewed in its Ink
- 60 ml (2 fl oz / 1/4 cup) olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and squashed
- 1 onion, sliced
- 300 g (10 1/2 oz) cuttlefish, cleaned (see Note) and cut into thin strips
- 1-2 teaspoons squid ink, or the contents of the cuttlefish’s own ink sac
- 125 ml (4 fl oz / 1/2 cup) dry white wine
- 200 g (7 oz) puréed or peeled tinned tomatoes (about half a tin)
- a few parsley sprigs, finely chopped
- soft white polenta or crostini, to serve
- Gently heat the olive oil in a wide saucepan and infuse it with the garlic clove for a few minutes, being careful to keep the heat on low so the garlic doesn’t burn but only turns slightly golden. Remove the clove, then add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes or so. Add the cuttlefish and turn the heat up to medium and cook for about 2 minutes, then add the ink, the wine, tomatoes and a good pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low and cover the pan. Let it cook for about 30 minutes, occasionally stirring and checking for tenderness (a fork should easily pierce the cuttlefish like butter). If it begins to look like the sauce has reduced too much, add some water to top it up. At the last minute, stir through the parsley and taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if needed. The onions and cuttlefish make this quite a sweet-tasting dish. Serve over soft white polenta or atop bread or polenta crostini.
Cinnamon & Salt by Emiko Davies (Hardie Grant, £22), Photography © Emiko Davies.