In Australia squid and cuttlefish is often sold interchangeably.
Both squid and cuttlefish have the potential to contain ink sacs in their bodies, but cuttlefish seems to contain more ink and is preferred for ‘black ink’ dishes in Italy, especially in coastal towns around the Adriatic. As you can see in the photo seppie are often covered with ink when they are sold.
Squid can be as well, but rarely have I seen this in Australia (we like things clean and white!)
This photo was taken by my nephew very recently in the fish market in Venice. They are seppie (cuttlefish). Fresche means fresh, senza sabbia means without sand in Italian.
If you have ever cleaned squid or cuttlefish you may have found a pea like swelling filled with black ink in some of the cavities, but some come with an empty ink bladder. If you have ever fished for squid, the moment you try to lift them out of the water, most squid will squirt a cloud of dark brown ink in their attempt to get away.
The ink is not harmful to eat (It was once used as the artist’s pigment, sepia).
You may need to buy ink separately – you will need 3-6 ink sacs for this recipe.
In Venice and in Trieste seppie are cooked in umido (braised) in wine and in their own ink and served with polenta (a very popular dish). As a child living in Trieste this was my favourite dish, especially when served with left over fried polenta. In Triestino (dialect from Trieste) they are called sepe in umido co la polenta –this dish is still very popular in the trattorie in Trieste, many of them are found in Trieste vecchia (the old part of Trieste).
The seppie in umido become the dressing for the polenta (popular in the north of Italy, by many eaten more often than pasta and preferred to pasta).
cuttlefish or squid, 2k
white onion, sliced thinly
parsley, ½ bunch, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
garlic, 2 cloves, chopped
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
dry white wine, ¾ cup
Clean cuttlefish or squid: discard the eyes and beaks, separate heads from bodies and, cut off tentacles and set aside. Pull out hard transparent cartilage from bodies and discard. Cut bodies lengthwise to open and carefully remove the ink sacs and set aside. Remove and discard entrails. Rinse cuttlefish or squid under cold running water.
Slice fish and tentacles into large strips (they will shrink).
Heat oil in a large pan with lid over medium heat.
Add onions and garlic and sauté till golden. Add cuttlefish and reserved tentacles and sauté, add parsley and keep on stirring for about 10 mins.
Add wine and evaporate for a few minutes.
Mix the ink sacs in ½ cup of water, press on the ink sacs with the back of a spoon on the side of the cup to break the skin and release the black ink.
Add the water and ink to the braise.
Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fish is very tender for about 30 mins.
If there is too much liquid, uncover pan for the last 5 minutes of cooking to reduce and thicken the sauce.
Serve with plain polenta – no cheese, no milk. Traditional polenta is made with plain water.
There is instant polenta and original polenta. Instructions for cooking it are generally on the packet.Generally the ratio is 1 ½ cups yellow polenta to 4 cups water, salt to taste.Original polenta will take about 30 minutes.
In a heavy saucepan sift the cornmeal into the pan with water and salt. On medium eat bring to the boil. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon with a long handle. Reduce the heat to low. You will need to stir constantly until the polenta is smooth and thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Pour out the polenta onto a wooden board and with a spatula, shape it into a round shape (to resemble a cake) and allow it to rest 10 minutes.
Cut the polenta into thick slices, place one slice on each plate and top with the seppie in umido.
Slices of left over polenta taste wonderful fried in extra virgin olive oil. The surface of the polenta will develop a crosta (a golden brown crust). Delightful!!
For the Sicilian version of Pasta with Black ink sauce see earlier post: