Grilled calamari with lemon puree

Gutting, cleaning and skinning the squid yourself always yields a more tender, tastier outcome, says Karen Martini.
Gutting, cleaning and skinning the squid yourself always yields a more tender, tastier outcome, says Karen Martini. Photo: William Meppem
Dietary
Gluten-free

I've said it many times before, but calamari on the grill is one of my absolute favourite aromas – especially if you have the luxury of using real coals. Combine that charred squid with some other favourite things – lemon, anchovy, chilli, garlic, good olive oil, olives – and this is a dish that makes me very happy indeed. A gas barbecue will do the job extremely well, too – just make sure it gets properly hot*.

Ingredients

4 medium calamari (about 500g), freshly cleaned, gutted and skinned, with wings still attached

120g baby spinach or rocket

extra virgin olive oil

salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

For the anchovy and chilli dressing

50ml extra virgin olive oil

1 small garlic clove, finely grated

4 anchovies

2 bird's-eye chillies, finely sliced in rounds

10 green olives, cracked and pitted

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

For the lemon puree

2 lemons, halved

50ml extra virgin olive oil

1½ tsp ground cumin

Method

1. Heat the barbecue on high, or ideally cook over coals.

2. For the puree, add the lemons to a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then strain off the water. Repeat, then repeat again, on the final pass simmering for 30 minutes until soft. Drain well, then remove all seeds.

3. Add the lemons, oil and cumin to a blender and season with salt. Blitz on high speed until smooth.

4. Split the calamari hoods (with the wings still attached) so that they open out flat, then cut in half lengthways. With the squids' beaks removed during cleaning, cut each tentacle crown in half. Pierce one edge of each hood piece with a skewer and thread through a couple of times to stop them from curling up when they cook. Slide the tentacles onto the ends of the skewers.

5. Wash the spinach or rocket, then drain and throw into a large frying pan over high heat (no oil required). Season with salt and cook quickly until just wilted, then drain, squeezing out any excess water.

6. Lightly oil the calamari and season with salt and pepper. Grill the skewers for about 2 minutes on each side.

7. Once they are cooked, dollop some puree across the platter, then arrange the skewers, along with the spinach, on top.

8. For the dressing, warm the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and anchovies, melting them into the oil. Then add the chilli and stir through. Add the olives and warm through. Take off the heat, season with black pepper and stir in the vinegar. Spoon over the calamari and serve.

Tip: Gutting, cleaning and skinning the squid yourself at home always yields a more tender, tastier outcome. There are several good, step-by-step videos on YouTube (we particularly like "How to Clean and Prepare Squid at Home", by Marion's Kitchen). Have a look: it's easier than you'd think.

*Note: You can even use a griddle pan, but get it as hot as possible and weigh down the squid with a skillet or the like; it will have better contact with the pan and you'll get more heat in more efficiently.