This Italian Stuffed Calamari Recipe is a pescatarian holiday wonder - tender calamari, stuffed with parmesan seasoned bread and herbs and braised in a savory red sauce. Served over pasta or polenta, it's the perfect Christmas Eve or Sunday Supper meal.
Stuffed calamari seems like a complicated, fancy meal. I assure you, it's simple to prepare and has a huge flavor payoff. My favorite way to serve it is by slicing the calamari, showing off the tender seafood and the flavorful stuffing, then serving it over creamy polenta with red sauce, basil and parmesan.
What you'll need to make this delicious recipe:
Before we get into the step by step instructions, a few notes about ingredients:
Sauce: the recipe includes instructions for making a simple but flavorful red sauce for braising the stuffed calamari. If you're short on time, or have a quality jar of red sauce you love, feel free to use instead. I do recommend a fairly smooth sauce, so skip the chunky marinara.
Bread crumbs: for a gluten-free recipe, use gluten free bread to make your crumbs. Then serve over gluten-free polenta or pasta for a fabulous celebration meal.
Calamari: use fresh or frozen calamari in this recipe. If using frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight (or at least a few hours) before rinsing and stuffing. If you've bought your calamari in the US, the tubes are likely already cleaned of anything inedible, but if you need help, consult this thorough discussion on How to Clean Calamari on The Spruce Eats.
How to Prepare Calamari:
1. Assemble the Sauce
Heat a deep sauté pan (not a cast iron skillet) over medium heat and add olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté gently for 3-4 minutes, until garlic is fragrant and tender, but not browned. Add white wine and let it cook off for about 2 minutes, then add tomato puree and a teaspoon of coarse kosher salt.
Stir to combine and allow the sauce to return to a simmer for 8-10 minutes. Add butter and a sprig of fresh basil, then taste and adjust seasoning.
2. Prepare the Seafood
Cut the tentacles off each calamari tube, and dice the tentacles finely. Set the tubes aside.
3. Make Savory Stuffing
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 6 minced garlic cloves, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the diced calamari tentacles, and cook for about one minute longer.
Remove skillet from heat and add the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, lemon zest, diced flat leaf parsley and basil. Stir to combine well.
Once the stuffing mixture has cooled a bit, add the well beaten egg.
Fill each calamari tube up to ½ inch from the top opening to prevent your squid tubes from overflowing while they cook. Use a toothpick to thread the top closed.
I found that it is helpful to fill a pastry bag with a wide tip or a simple plastic baggie, and pipe the filling into the calamari tubes. You can also use your fingers or a small spoon to stuff the seafood.
4. Gently Cook Stuffed Calamari
Next, nestle the stuffed calamari tubes into the sauce. Baste the seafood in the sauce, ensuring they are submerged.
Cover the pan and simmer on low for 35-40 minutes, or until calamari is cooked through and tender. (Note: the calamari tubes I used were in the medium-sized range. If you have large stuffed tubes, they will need longer to cook - up to 50-55 minutes.)
5. Garnish and Serve
Once the dish is cooked and tender, remove the toothpicks before serving. I like to slice the stuffed calamari tubes and serve them over pasta or creamy polenta. Always garnish with extra red sauce, Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
FAQ's and Serving Suggestions:
You can follow all the instructions up until adding the stuffed calamari tubes to the pan of red sauce. At this point, pour the red sauce into a baking dish. Nestle the calamari into the sauce, ensuring they're covered. Wrap the dish in foil and bake in a preheated oven at 350℉ for about 45 minutes.
Italian main courses like this one are delicious with a Mediterranean Tossed Salad and Garlic Bread Baguette. If you're serving it as a Feast of Seven Fishes main dish, start with Mediterranean Charcuterie Board or Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta.
This will depend on the size of the calamari tubes and the method of cooking. For this braised recipe, it will take from 35-50 minutes to cook through and create a tender dish. In my favorite Sautéed Calamari Recipe, it takes much less time. Calamari rings and tentacles can sear in a pan in under 5 minutes.
Calamari is the Italian name for squid meat. So squid and calamari are one and the same!
To store, transfer stuffed squid to an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. To reheat, warm gently in the red sauce over medium heat until just heated through.