Squid and Leeks in Red Wine

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I’ve got a Valentine’s Day gift for you. It has a fancy French name–“Estouffade de Calmars aux Poireaux”–and it may be the most perfect thing for you to make tomorrow night as you try to seduce your Valentine.

What makes it so seductive? For starters, look at the color: a deep reddish/purple, it positively screams passion and romance. Secondly, the smell: there is no smell greater, in all of cooking, than the smell of red wine stewing away on the stove. And, finally, the effect: the resulting dish is quite satisfying, but not heavy at all. You’ll have so much energy for a post-dinner romp, even Cupid would blush at the result.

The recipe comes from a book I’ve long wanted to cook from, but always avoided for one reason or another: Richard Olney’s Simple French Food.

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This is a classic French cookbook, one celebrated by thousands of chefs, and I love to flip through it but I rarely know what to cook from it. Then yesterday a dish flashed into my brain–“squid cooked in red wine”–and I couldn’t remember which book I saw it in and then suddenly I remembered: “Simple French Food.”

I ran out to get the ingredients and, surprisingly, it wasn’t very expensive: 2 pounds of squid cost little more than $10; 2 pounds of leeks cost $5; and the rest–the garlic, the herbs, and the croutons–were very, very cheap. The wine, of course, can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be: I settled on a $7 bottle of CĂ´tes du Ventoux and we were very happy.

Here’s how you proceed.

Squid and Leeks in Red Wine

from Richard Olney’s Simple French Food

Ingredients:

The white and pale green parts of 2 pounds of leeks, cut into 2-inch lengths

**[NOTE: Leeks can be very, very dirty on the inside so do what I did: slice the leeks vertically, exposing their innards, and wash each layer carefully under running cold water. You’ll be surprised at how much dirt spills out. If you don’t do this, it may very well ruin your dish.]

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt

2 pounds squid, cleaned, hoods cut into 1/2-inch widths

2 tablespoons flour

Pinch cayenne

1 teaspoon crumbled dry herbs (thyme, oregano….)

1 bay leaf

About 8 peeled cloves garlic, sliced paper thin

About 2 cups red wine

About 1 cup water (2 parts wine to 1 part water in quantity sufficient to cover)

Butter-crisp croutons [make your own or buy crostini and smash ’em; don’t buy seasoned croutons like you’d find on a salad bar]

Chopped parsley

[Here’s all my ingredients laid out first; an essential step, called mise-en-place.]

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1. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or, if you have it, a “low-sided earthenware receptacle”) and, when hot, add the leeks and a large pinch of salt (about 1 Tbs.)

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Saute for 10 minutes or so, “turning them carefully so as not to damage them,” until they’re pretty cooked through.

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Remove them to a bowl.

2. Add the squid to the same oil, add salt (another Tbs, perhaps), and stir for several minutes “until the liquid they exude has been almost entirely evaporated.” [This took quite a while; there was a lot of liquid in that squid.]

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3. When almost all the liquid is gone: sprinkle over the flour, stir and cook for another minute or so.

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4. Add the seasoning, herbs, and garlic and, stirring all the while, slowly add the red wine, then the water. Also add some salt here, though not too much (I think I added too much at this step and it came out a drop too salty.)

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5. Bring to a boil and gently slip the leek sections back into the pan, one by one, easing each into place between the squid sections.

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6. Cook, covered, at a bare simmer (definitely check! mine was bubbling way too rapidly after 10 minutes; I had to turn it down to the lowest flame) for something over 1 1/2 hours.

[This is a nice pause if you want to shower, change, light candles and put on some Barry White.]

7. When it’s ready, lift the lid and smell. Mmmm!

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Take a taste: does it need more salt? Now’s the time to correct.

8. Scatter the surface with the croutons and chopped parsley at the moment of serving (in the cooking utensil.)

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And that, sexy people, is one killer Valentine’s Day dinner. Serve with a salad–try a shaved fennel salad with mushrooms and Parmesan–and, for dessert, of course, the obligatory flourless chocolate cake.

If this doesn’t win hearts and minds, I don’t know what will. Here’s to you and your Valentine.

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