Christmastime in Venice with Cuttlefish in Its Ink

The cooking of cuttlefish in its own ink is a method that goes back at least to the fourteenth century, as we know from an early cookery manuscript fragment from about 1300 (Frammento, Biblioteca Universitaria della Università di Bologna, MS 158, ffº 86r – 91v) where it is cooked with leeks, garlic, and spices to “look like mushroom,” which you will recognize when you make this recipe.*

The slender squid is a graceful creature when swimming, while the cuttlefish is a stockier-looking cephalopod with thicker meat.  Some people have suggested that the timid nature of the cuttlefish accounts for its excellent taste because it is caught relatively motionless and has not had a chance to emit any chemicals associated with fright and flight.  Cuttlefish were caught in nets without effort, keeping its ink, and probably it was these fishermen of early Venice who began to use the ink.  Choose the smallest cuttlefish available.

The same preparation is made in Chioggia, at the southern end of the Venetian lagoon, without garlic.   Cuttlefish is usually available around the Christmas season in the United States, especially in ethnic neighborhoods.  The recipe can be made with squid, but it just isn’t the same, not to mention how difficult it is to get a squid ink sack.  However, there is an even easier solution and that is to buy cuttlefish ink sachets available via Amazon or simplying by Googlinf for sources. Serve with hot polenta (page 000).

* [Guerrini, O. Frammento di un libro di cucina del sec. XIV edito nel di[ag] delle nozze carducci-gnaccarini. Bologna: Nicola Zanichelli, 1887.]

Seppie Nero alla Veneziana
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Seafood
Cuisine: Venetian
Serves: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • 4 pounds cuttlefish, gutted and cleaned (save the ink sacks) or squid
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower seed oil
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • ¼ cup very finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • ¼ cup Tomato Sauce (optional)
Instructions
  1. Prepare the cuttlefish and cut into ½-inch squares.
  2. In a large flameproof casserole, heat the oil over medium-low heat, then cook, stirring frequently so the garlic doesn’t burn, the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the cuttlefish and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the cuttlefish looks rubbery, about 20 minutes.
  3. Squeeze the ink sack into the wine (you can also purchase small 4-gram cuttlefish ink packets) and pour the wine mixture a little at a time into the casserole over the next 10 minutes, adding it whenever the sauce looks like it is drying out. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cuttlefish is tender, about another 40 minutes. Add the tomato sauce if desired and stir. Serve immediately.

 

Wampanoag Indian Dish from First Thanksgiving

Between 1620 and 1621 Edward Winslow, who arrived on the Mayflower and was a leader of the English settlement at Plimouth in the Massachusetts colony, wrote with William Bradford Mourt’s Relation, the full title of which was A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England).  Winslow wrote that “Our Indian corn, even the coarsest, maketh as pleasant a meal as rice.”  Although there is no menu of that first harvest celebration that is usually called the first thanksgiving, there are some sound ideas of what foods, if not precise preparations, were on the table.  Since the celebration included at least 90 of the local Wampanoag who we also know brought a good deal of the food and who taught the settlers about growing foods, it is a safe bet that one of the foods made from “Indian corn” might have been nasaump, a kind of grits made from flint corn, the kind of multicolored corn the Wampanoag grew.

In 1643 a book by the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, describes nasaump as “a meale pottage, unparched. From this the English call their Samp, which is Indian corn, beaten and boiled, and eaten hot or cold with milk and butter, which are mercies beyond the Natives plaine water.”  From this brief description it seems safe to say that the dish is a thanksgiving food.  It is very much like grits and one could make it savory or sweet I suppose.  This recipe is adapted from a description on the Plimouth Plantation web site.

Two excellent sources for Rhode Island stone ground flint cornmeal are Gray’s Grist Mill and Kenyon’s Grist Mill in operation since 1696.  I recommend you order their product because it is a distinctively different taste than store-bought masa harina or cornmeal. This traditional Wampanoag dish that is made from that dried flint corn, local berries, and nuts. It is boiled in water until it thickens, and is similar to oatmeal or grits. Once it cools it hardens and can be cut into slices for pan-frying in butter.

fried nasaump with butter and maple syrup

 

Nasaump
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Native American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 cup stone ground flint cornmeal (see sources above)
  • ⅓ cup wild (preferably) or cultivated small strawberries
  • ⅓ cup blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons crushed walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons crushed hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring almost constantly, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until a thick porridge or grits consistency, 10 minutes. Serve hot. The remainder not served can be cooled on a platter until hardened and cut into squares for frying in butter later.

 

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