As we traveled along the Northern coast of Greece we stayed at an amazing resort in Chalkidiki called Eagle’s Palace, about a 10 minute drive from Mount Athos. The girls on the trip were not allowed to visit Mt. Athos, as it is a sacred place with historic monasteries where women aren’t allowed. We missed the adventure and vineyards in Mt. Athos, but had a lovely morning at Eagle’s Palace instead. The night before we had a tasting and dinner with the winery of the vineyards the guys went to see in Mt. Athos, Tsantali, a winery founded in 1890 and known for their quality, indigenous varieties from throughout the country from Mount Athos to Mount Olympus, from Naoussa to Nemea.
One of the favorite courses we had during dinner was a Greek salad (tomatoes, cucumber, feta and olive) stuffed whole squid or calamari which I paired with a stunning Kanenas Rose blend of Mavroudi and Syrah. I quickly became a fan of Rose wines in Greece, especially for some of their wines that are usually highly tannic when made into full fledge red wines; many of the indigenous variety grapes are highly tannic to start with so when you age them for a year or two, as many wineries do, in oak you add the oak tannin to the already highly tannic grape, thus creating a need for long cellaring on some of the wines. The Rose wines are usually pressed earlier from the grape skins, reducing some of the grape tannin and then usually not aged as long in oak, creating vibrant, fruit forward, spicy wines that are easily consumed shortly after bottling. This was a beautiful example of great Grecian Rose.
I created a version of this stuffed calamari the other night taking inspiration from all the flavors enjoyed throughout my time in Greece, creating a stuffing from onion, fennel, zucchini, tomato and herbs, grilling them over a fiery grill and placing them on a bed of succulent, savory Greek inspired tomato sauce with a light drizzle of olive oil, lemon and herbs on top. Add a few Dolmades, rice stuffed grape leaves (also delicious with the sauce) and a delicious glass of crisp, fruity Rose and your first course is complete.
Greek Inspired Stuffed Calamari
For the tomato sauce –
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
2 large beef steak tomatoes, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
7 oil packed sundried tomatoes
1/2 cup red or white wine
1 roasted red pepper, skin, seeds and top removed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon hot paprika
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/3 cup tomato sauce
salt and pepper
For the calamari –
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 zucchini, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 leek, green part and end removed, rinsed well and diced
1/2 fennel bulb, diced
1 tablespoon fennel frawns, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 vine-ripe tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1/2 cup white wine
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
10 cleaned calamari, bodies only, tentacles removed
For the lemon and olive oil sauce –
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons mixed, chopped herbs (basil, parsley, dill, oregano, mint)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
Additional – 10 pre-made Dolmades, we found some stuffed with rice and herbs in olive oil. Make sure to drizzle the olive oil and lemon sauce over the Dolmades….it is absolutely delicious with any fish dish and the stuffed grape leaves.
To make the tomato sauce add the oil to a sauce pan with the onion and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes as they soften. Add the chopped tomatoes, garlic and sundried tomatoes and season with salt and pepper, about a half teaspoon of each. Continue to cook for another 5-7 minutes until everything is softened well. Add the wine, tomato paste and sauce with the paprika and cinnamon. Stir to combine. Cook for another 5 minutes to help the alcohol burn off then add the herbs, cook for 2 more minutes then let cool for about 5 minutes. Using a hand blender or a food processor add the roasted red pepper in with the ingredients from the sauce pan and pulse until the sauce is smooth and thick. (Add a bit of water if it is too thick.) Pour back into the sauce pot and keep on a simmer until ready to serve.
To make the calamari add the oil to a large saute pan with the onion, leeks, fennel and zucchini and cook until the veggies start to caramelize. Add the wine and lemon juice with the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes as the veggies continue to soften. Season with salt and pepper (about a teaspoon of each), stirring to evenly distribute, then add the tomato and all the herbs and cook until the tomato has softened. Remove from heat and adjust any final seasonings. Let cool then stuff each cleaned calamari with 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture and set aside. Pre-heat a grill pan or your outdoor grill to medium high. Season each side of the calamari with salt and pepper and place on the oiled grill. Grill for about 5-7 minutes on each side, until the calamari are cooked (look for grill marks to form if using an outdoor grill) and then turn over and do the same on the other side. After the calamari have cooked place them in an oven safe, covered dish and place the dish in a warm (not hot) oven (about 200 degrees just to keep them warm.)
To make the olive oil and lemon sauce add all the ingredients to a blender and blend on high until well emulsified. Season with salt and pepper and blend one more time. To assemble the dish place a heaping spoonful of tomato sauce on the bottom of a large plate or bowl. Add two or three calamari to each plate, spacing them out around the plate. Divide the Dolmades evenly among the plates and generously drizzle the lemon-olive oil sauce across the top of both the grape leaves and the calamari. Serve and enjoy.