I have been almost fixated on grilling and smoking in recent weeks. I think it is my way of holding on to summer as the autumn unveils itself. The cooler morning and evening temperatures and the subtle change of leaves beckons me to indulge in the transition.
I developed this recipe after recently having dinner with my husband at the AhhhMazing Rhubarb Restaurant in Asheville, NC. We have eaten there quite a few times and Chef John Fleer is one of my favorites of all time. Really, I mean that. His menus celebrate the seasons, he has a strong affiliation with a beautiful local farm for gorgeous vegetables that he highlights and celebrates. His team works around a wood-fired oven and there is an earthiness in his menu that cannot be ignored. It is perfection.
The grill is the next best thing to a wood-fired oven. Where there is fire, there is smoke, right? And it really is the smoke that makes wood-fired cooking produce foods of extraordinary flavors. I would love to have a wood fired oven!!! But – I am so happy with my backyard Masterbilt 3-1 Smoker. I use hardwood charcoal and wood “chunks” for really great results. I start the charcoal in a “chimney” starter, and place the wood chunks on the top. Once the coals are glowing and the wood chunks just begin to smoke, I pour the contents of the chimney into the grill and spread the fire source around to set up the cooking zones.
The calamari needs a modestly hot grill to cook quickly without becoming tough. The cooking zones on the grill are especially important in this recipe and a hotter side and a cooler side are the secret to getting good results. Moving the coals around a bit just before adding the food to the grill, you can spread out coals on one side for a cooler and softer cooking area (for the orange slices and the potato coins), and pile them up on the other side for the calamari tubes and tentacles. I placed my vegetable tray on the grill for the tentacles so they wouldn’t fall through the grill grate. That worked really well.
Sauteed leeks, given time on the stovetop on a med-low flame, maintains it’s texture after it slow cooks and develops into a silky, complex sweetness that makes the flavors in this dish dance together like leaves on a blustery autumn day.
The Romesco Sauce is a complex and earthy celebration of perfectly ripe, end of summer tomatoes. Of course you can make Romesco Sauce anytime, but the time of year when you have fresh heirlooms is THE BEST time to enjoy this sauce. Great with pasta, pizza, and seafood, it is a versatile sauce that doesn’t get enough recognition.
- 8 oz Calamari Tubes and Tentacles
- 1 Navel Orange
- 1 Leek - White Part
- 4-5 small Red Potatoes
- ¼ cup Olive Oil
- ¼ cup Fresh Parsley
- 2 tablespoon Fresh Tarragon
- Salt and White Pepper
- ½ Lemon, fresh
- 1 cup Romesco Sauce
- Start a charcoal grill with hardwood and wood chunk charcoal. (Alternatively, the grilling can take place in a grill pan on the stove)
- Place Calamari tubes and rings in a bowl and marinate with 2 TBSP. Olive Oil and Squeeze of ½ Lemon. Add half the fresh parsley and half the fresh tarragon to the marinade. Allow to marinate for 15 - 20 minutes.
- When the grill is ready, spread the coals to hot side and cooler side of grill. Brush the grill grate with olive oil and place the calamari tubes on the hot side and the oranges and potatoes on the cooler side.
- Brush olive oil on the grill and remove to a warm platter to hold warm as items complete cooking. Place the "vegetable grilling pan" on the grill and add the tentacles to this pan. Turning and shifting the grill elements, remove each item to the covered platter as it finishes cooking.
- Warm the romesco sauce and prepare warm plates for plating of the dish.
- Slice the calamari tubes into rings and combine the calamari rings, potato coins, leeks and orange segments
- Using a sharp knife, slice the calamari tubes into rings. Remove the rind from the grilled orange rings and slices and pull apart into segments.
- Combine the calamari, oranges, and leeks in a bowl. Drizzle the remaining marinade over the calamari dish and stir to combine. Season with salt and white pepper.
- Plate Romesco Sauce onto warm plate. Top the romesco sauce with the Calamari Dish. Dust the top of the dish with Parmigiano-Reggiano and red pepper flakes, to taste, to serve.
The combination of the earthy romesco sauce combined with the smoky grilled calamari and sauteed leeks produces a freshly balanced dish that is seasonal, smoky and satisfying. A full, round, Italian Pinot Grigio will complement this complex but light dish very well.