Recipes – № 31

Cannellini Bean Puree with Calamari and Arugula

Real food. Real bargain.

Calamari sautéed very briefly, tossed with arugula and served on cannellini bean puree flavored with rosemary and garlic. It's a beautiful, tasty dish and it's also good for you: seafood, legumes, greens, olive oil and likely none of the things you've put on your black list. But the most remarkable thing about it is that it's, well, cheap. Incomprehensibly cheap. At the Union Square Farmers Market, squid typically sells for $7 a pound, which is about as much as you need to satisfy 4 hungry eaters with this meal. Super fresh, wild-caught, local and sustainable seafood that has already been cleaned for you by the fishermen and is sold in the middle of bargain-starved Manhattan, for less than the cost of a subway ride. All you have to do is slice it and throw it in the pan for literally two minutes. I would do that, you may say, except that I don’t get to the farmers’ market very often because of my work hours. No problem: squid freezes well. Go ahead and stock up. Eat like a food snob, on a budget.

Serves 4

1 ½ cups dried cannellini beans, or 4.5 cups fresh. Alternatively, substitute other white or mostly white shell beans such as navy beans, sorana beans, cranberry beans or even chickpeas.

5 garlic cloves

1 bay leaf

2 rosemary twigs

1 lb cleaned squid, a mix of tails and heads/tentacles

1 twig oregano (fresh)

6 oz arugula. Baby mustard greens or tender leaves from smaller radish varieties are good options too.

6 Tbsp olive oil

Half a lemon

Kosher salt, fine sea salt


Beans are usually soaked in cold water for 8-12h before cooking. Don’t let this keep you from cooking beans right away though. Some argue they will taste even better without soaking as none of the flavor is washed away in the soaking water. Unsoaked beans will take longer to cook though. I’d assume something like 30 minutes longer, though you should rely on your taste buds, not your timer. To state the obvious, if you’re using fresh beans there is no need to soak them.

Cover the beans with about an inch of cold water in a pot, bring to a boil with 4 peeled garlic cloves, the bay leaf and some salt. Simmer covered, making sure there is always enough cooking liquid to keep all the beans submerged, until the beans are completely soft. Fresh beans will cook in as little as 20 minutes, some dried unsoaked beans or chickpeas will take over 2 hours, soaked beans somewhere in between. (If you cook dried beans or chickpeas more than occasionally, consider getting a pressure cooker. In my experience it cuts cooking time, and energy use, down to about a third).

Once the beans are cooked, turn off the heat and remove the bay leaf (but not the garlic cloves) from the pot. Submerge the rosemary twigs in the cooking liquid and let them steep, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the rosemary before the leaves fall off. Drain the beans, preserving the cooking liquid, and puree in a blender with a 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) of olive oil. Add only as much cooking liquid as you need for the blender to function properly. It’s a good idea to use the tamper for this if your blender came with one. Blend only as much as you need to until you get a smooth puree. Taste and add more salt as needed. 

Wash the arugula and dry it in a salad spinner. Peel and finely chop the remaining garlic clove and chop the oregano leaves.

Squid releases a lot of moisture during cooking. To be able to pan fry it, rather than stew it in its own juices, start with squid that’s less than dripping wet and use a large, heavy and very hot frying pan (or even two). Rinse the squid and check that none of the tails still contain any cartilage. (Squid cartilage looks and feels like thin, clear plastic). Slice the tails into ½-inch rings and dry the rings and heads on some kitchen paper towel. Put on an apron to protect yourself from any splattering oil. Heat the largest, heaviest skillet you own over high heat until it’s very hot, hot enough for any residual oil in the pan to just start smoking. (I grease my cast iron pans to keep them from rusting, so there is always a little bit of oil on them). Add 2 Tbsp of olive oil and immediately add the squid and a few pinches of salt. Fry for one minute, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, add the chopped garlic and oregano and fry for another minute in the residual heat. Taste for salt and add more as needed. Toss the arugula with the squid in the hot frying pan so that the arugula begins to wilt.

Serve the bean puree in bowls or soup plates, top with calamari, arugula and any juice left in the skillet and finish each with a good squeeze from the lemon half.

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