As we move deeper into summer our garden and the farmers market start to show an abundance of small “frying peppers”. Frying peppers make up a family of small, usually sweet, thin-skinned, peppers that start with a lovely pale green but will move to a deep red over time. While they have a variety of names (Jimmy Nardello, Shisito, Cubanelle, Italian frying, or Padron) most frying peppers are best served in simple preparations that highlight their sweet, grassy flavor. Many recipes simply suggest a quick, high-temperature fry in some olive oil and a touch of seasoning. That is a good way to enjoy frying peppers, and we do, but we also want to include them in main courses.
Happily, our friend Chad (the professional chef and all-around good guy) made a simple, but incredibly tasty, recipe that combines squid and frying peppers. Chad made this last summer when peppers were in season and we couldn’t wait to try it again. The recipe combines sweet, buttery squid with the more herbal sweetness of the peppers, a dash of lemon and wine (if needed) provide some acidity and suddenly you have a light, balanced and very addictive dish. And a dish you can serve as an appetizer or a main course. And it takes just a few minutes to make.
And this weekend our peppers came in, and the farmers market was full of early frying peppers (we had to augment our Jimmy Nardellos, we will plant more next year). And in a stroke of good luck, the fish guy at the farmers market had frozen, cleaned squid available. So we decided to go ahead and make the dish. A few quick text messages from Chad (thanks!) to confirm the basics of the recipe and we were off to the races.
But first, a quick note on preparing and cooking the squid / calamari. Squid are affordable, widely available and quite tasty, but can be intimidating, particularly when you have to clean them yourself. Our advice is very simple. Don’t clean them yourself. Buy them cleaned or have your fish monger do it, squid are still inexpensive even when sold cleaned. If you must do it yourself, here is a good link on how.
Otherwise, the key to cooking squid is that it either cooks very quickly over high heat, or low and slow in a braise. This recipe is a quick / high-heat recipe. But this means that it helps to cut the squid into pieces that are the same size so they cook evenly. If you have uneven pieces, the small pieces will be tough by the time the large pieces cook. The squid are done when the pieces are opaque and the edges curl. The best way to be sure the squid is done is to simply try a piece after a minute of cooking and keep testing. If tender and buttery, it’s done, take the squid off the heat. The squid will still cook a bit more from residual heat.
As for making the dish, it is a very simple preparation. Clean the peppers, slice and the remove the seeds. Sauté the peppers with a few slivers of sweet onion in some olive oil until the skins slightly blister, about 6-8 minutes, and lightly season. Meanwhile slice the squid and then fry, over very high heat, in some olive oil for just 1-2 minutes.The squid will release liquid that provides the base for a light sauce. Add a dash of wine, a squeeze of lemon and then add the peppers and onion to the squid. Taste for seasoning and add salt, black pepper and some red pepper flakes if you like a touch of heat. Serve with rice, pasta or some crusty bread.
We enjoyed this dish as much as the first time we tried it. The squid was buttery and sweet and the peppers added incredibly fresh flavors. It simply tasted like summer. And it is a light and healthy dish as well. So if you have frying peppers this summer, the first thing to do is just fry and eat them. But if you want to use the peppers in something more, try this dish out, it’s a winner. Thanks Chad!
Chad’s Squid With Frying Peppers:
(Adapted from Chad Callahan)
Notes Before You Start:
- There are many varieties of frying peppers, but you want small, thin-skinned peppers. Taste them for heat before you start the dish. Red or green varieties both work.
- Frozen squid are not only fine for this dish, but preferred. Freezing helps tenderize squid.
What You Get: A very tasty summer dish that combines squid and peppers. A light, healthy, but flavorful dish.
What You Need: No special equipment required.
How Long? About 15-20 minutes of mostly active time, assuming you are using cleaned squid. Most of the effort comes from slicing and seeding the peppers. Anytime dish.
(Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 as a starter)
- 1.5 – 2 pounds of squid, cleaned
- 2 cups (about 2-3 dozen) frying peppers
- 1/4 large, sweet onion
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1-2 tablespoons white wine (un-oaked wine will be better)
- 1 pinch red pepper flake (optional)
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Cut the squid into evenly shaped rounds about 1/4 inch thick. If using the tentacles, remove the top section with the hard beak and discard.
- Rinse the peppers and then cut off the tops and slice in half lengthwise. Remove seeds from the peppers. Thinly slice the onion into strips.
- Place a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the skillet and then add the peppers and onion. Saute the onions and peppers until the skin on the peppers blisters and the onions are soft, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Place a large skillet over high heat. When very hot, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then the squid. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste for doneness after 1 minute. When edges curl and the squid are opaque, add the lemon juice and wine and remove from the heat. Add the pepper and onion mixture. Taste for seasoning and add salt, black pepper and red pepper flake to taste. Serve with pasta, rice or crusty bread.