Stuffed in Croatia

It has been a hectic few weeks, but I’ve still been cooking away.  I made a Croatian dinner for some friends to mark the start of Game of Thrones, Season 6.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense thematically, but it was how the timing worked out, so we just went with it.  Now, you may be thinking, “GofT premiered months ago!” and I say to you, “Well played, sir.”  However, I have had to take a few months off from this project due to too many time restraints and other commitments.  The next few posts will be about food that I made this past spring, and I will be picking up where I left off as soon as I catch up my entries to where I left off cooking.

Now that all that has been cleared up, let’s begin!

The most important thing you need to know about Croatian cuisine: SEAFOOD!  Of course they eat other things as well, but you can find almost any kind of seafood in Croatian cuisine, so it seemed pretty clear what direction I should go.  Croatia is influenced by all the surrounding cultures and countries, and depending on what region you are in, there is a whole range of what is considered traditional cuisine.  I decided to keep it simple and make stuffed squid, or lignje.  I had made it before and it felt like it would be something nice to share with my friends who were coming over for the Game of Thrones premiere.  All I needed to do was find squid in central PA……yeah, not exactly the easiest task.  I had to settle for frozen, unfortunately, but I refused to be discouraged!

The key here, obviously, is the stuffing.  Squid is not exactly the most flavorful of foods, so you need other flavors added in to give it a complex flavor.  First thing, I sautéed some onions and garlic – always a good place to start.

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If you have read any of my other posts, you will know that is is always my first step.  It is just a great base for any food, any cuisine, and any palate.  I added a little salt and pepper and then chopped up some mushrooms.  I used baby bellas, cause that is what looked good at the store, but any kind of mushroom would probably work (or no mushrooms at all, if that’s not your thing).

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Once everything started softening up, I turned the heat up a little bit and added some breadcrumbs.  Now, you don’t have to brown the breadcrumbs, like I did, but I think it gives it a nicer flavor.

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Once the breadcrumbs are toasted and they have absorbed a lot of the olive oil, I add some fresh, chopped, parsley.

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I like adding some kind of fresh element to any dish (which I hope doesn’t sound too cliché) to make it less heavy.  Once that was all combined in a bowl I tacked the squid.

First you cut off the tentacles and roughly chop them into bite sized pieces.  They may seem at first like they don’t want to be chopped, but use a sharp knife and don’t try for perfect.  Just chop enough so that you can sauté them a little and then mix them in with the rest of the stuffing.

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I cooked them in some butter, but olive oil works just as well, and probably would have been more traditionally Croatian.  Just make sure you don’t overcook the squid tentacles, just toss them around so that they expel some liquid and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon and mix them into the stuffing.

Once the stuffing is ready, you can prep the tubes.  I put them in a strainer and rinsed them inside and out, making sure to pour out as much of the liquid as possible.

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Then you can just start stuffing, but I’ll give you the little tidbit that I wish I’d had: squid shrinks A LOT while cooking, so don’t stuff them too much.  You are going to have way more stuffing than what can fit in the tubes, but that’s ok.

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I then lined them in a casserole dish, poured some tomato sauce over them, and covered with foil, all before popping them in the oven.  I cooked them for about 20 minutes at 375, but just keep an eye on them so that they don’t overcook. I only stuffed enough squid for the amount of people coming to dinner and also that could fit in my small baking dish, so I had a couple tubes left over.  I decided to slice them up, bread them, and fry them to make a crispy treat for a garnish.

The trick for fried calamari is in the breading.  I mixed flour with a little garlic powder, pepper, onion powder, and a touch of salt.  You can really add any spice you want, though to enrich the flavor of the breading.  Also, if the squid is a little wet, it’ll help the breading stick.  Make sure to toss the squid in the flour mixture completely so that it is thoroughly covered.

When the stuffed squid was finished cooking, I put some lettuce on each plate, added the stuffed squid and topped with a few pieces of the fried squid.

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As I said at the start of this entry, I will be catching up my posts to what I cooked in the spring and pick up cooking again soon!

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