Pasta with Calamari, Tomato and Caper Sauce

Blogging has turned me into a culinary diurnal vampire. “Huh?” you say. Let me explain: as a food blogger, you realize pretty darned quickly that without natural light your food photos look like … well … crap. This is the case even with a nice SLR camera. It all gets flat and yellow. You know what I’m talking about. It’s when the food looks kind of dessicated and (let’s face it) unappetizing.

I have a single window in my kitchen that faces vaguely north. So, being fairly obsessive-compulsive, I now find myself cooking dinner at 11 a.m. Then I take half a dozen photos of whatever I’ve cooked and I put it away. Or I eat it for lunch. In August I had no idea how grim things could get. Now, by three, the light turns gray, and if I haven’t finished what I set out to make that day I start to fret. It’s a problem. I’m sure that as the winter progresses I’ll be styling photos in the living room at 9 am, shooing cats away and moving plants around. But my personal bloggy rule is this: if it doesn’t taste good don’t write about it. Period. But if it’s delicious, do write about it. Hence this blog post about this lovely calamari and pasta dish, notwithstanding the fact that I actually cooked it at dinner time for dinner and so (horror!) couldn’t get any really nice pictures of it. (You may notice a trend, by the way. I used the leftover coconut milk and lime from my black bean soup to make my Malaysian squid curry. This dish, of course, uses the squid I didn’t put in the curry. It’s all about economizing, since I spent all my money in Seattle on booze and tasty eats.)

I could have been super pretentious about this dish, and titled it “Fettucine ai Calamari, Pomodori e Caperi.” That would have made me sound ultra fancy, and possibly annoying. But since I couldn’t take the photos outdoors on a wooden picnic table, with the sun sparkling through a glass of Orvieto strategically placed behind the dish, I had to dial it down a bit. But this does taste authentically and fabulously Italian. You can almost picture yourself at a charming restaurant in the Trastevere, watching exquisite Italian people animatedly discuss politics. It’s a little spicy (you know my weakness), the ripe, partly cooked cherry tomatoes pop in your mouth, and it’s all got a slightly oceany briny flavour from the capers and squid. There’s also a trick: I’ve made this with butter instead olive oil, which adds a delightful nutty richness (I think butter is especially nice with fresh tomato sauce). I do recommend making this with fresh pasta since it’s so much more delicate than dried, but I’m sure it would be fine with whatever pasta you’ve got in your cupboard. Also, make it with/for someone you love, and eat it with them, or else eat it alone, because it’s got a shitload of garlic.

The proportions are for two people (leftover pasta just never tastes good), so multiply if you’re making it for more (maybe keep the garlic amount where it is, since once you get past three cloves or so you’re doing some serious business).


1/2 pound fresh pasta (if you’re using my fresh pasta recipe, this is a little less than half the recipe)

1 pound cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

150-200 grams (about half a pound) of squid, cut into rings or sliced and scored on the diagonal

2-3 cloves garlic, sliced

100 grams butter

2-3 tablespoons dry white wine

1 teaspoon red chili flakes

1 tablespoon capers

1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

1 tablespoon fresh basil, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon lemon zest


This sauce cooks relatively quickly, so you may want to start by heating your pasta water. Then you can keep that at a simmer while you make the sauce (thereby avoiding overcooking the squid). If you are using dry pasta, you will want to cook it at this point, unless you’re a fly-off-the-cuff kitchen whizzer (‘expert multi-tasker’) like me. Cook it until it’s al dente (it’s going in the pan later, so you don’t want it too soft), drain it, and rinse it to keep it from getting sticky.

On to the sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. When it is foamy add the garlic and sauté quickly until it is tender, but not brown. Add the red chili flakes and the wine (the butter will sizzle and fizz marvelously), and then stir in the tomatoes.

Cook for several minutes, shaking the pan to toss, until the tomatoes have started to turn slightly golden, and their skins have begun to wrinkle and contract. Add the capers and the salt. The tomatoes should immediately release a lot of liquid. Reduce the heat so this doesn’t all steam away. Crank your hot water up to a boil, drop your fresh pasta in – it shouldn’t need more than a couple of minutes to cook – and while it’s boiling stir the squid in with the tomatoes. Cook until the squid is just tender and then remove the pan from the heat. (If you’re anxious about overcooking your pasta, or don’t feel up to expert multi-tasking, you can cook it now instead, while your squid is sitting in the sauce. Your squid shouldn’t turn rubbery if you err on the side of minimal cooking.)

Again, cook your pasta just to al dente – anything more and it will get soft in the sauce. Then return the saucepan to medium heat, and once it’s hot dump in the pasta, basil, and lemon zest. Toss gently with tongs for about another minute, or, if you want to play TV chef, toss it in the air.

You’re done! Dish it up for yourself and a happy guest. (Incidentally, the photo below was taken with a flash. The headline photo was taken without one. Which plate looks more like something you’d want to eat? Collaborative blogging! Let me know what you think.)

Serves 2 as a main course.

22 thoughts on “Pasta with Calamari, Tomato and Caper Sauce

  1. Love it! Being a blogger has forced me to cook many things way before I wanted or needed to – all to make a deadline (set by me) or to catch the right light. I’ll be making cranberry sauce soon, which won’t keep until Thanksgiving, just so I can photograph it. I can appreciate your dilemma.

    • Thanks for the comment. It does make me feel (more than) faintly ridiculous sometimes, but at the same time the right light is so important! I had no idea, until I started blogging, how key natural light was to good photos. Thanks for the comment, and good luck with the cranberry sauce!

  2. I know how you feel about the light for pics. We have some halogen lights over the counter in our kitchen which helps a bit. Otherwise I just do the best I can, because you are right, you should never let the light get in the way of blogging delicious food.

    I really like the simplicity of this dish. There is something so primally appealing about simple pasta without too much sauce. A few simple, great tastes combined works so well.

    • Thanks very much for the nice feedback. The photo thing is funny/ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter to a recipe — but the nature of blogging makes it important, doesn’t it?

      I know the pasta looks dry — the sauce is there (maybe that’s a reason to switch to the photo with the flash, since you can see the sauce in that one) — but it’s a fairly light sauce since I wanted to keep the tomatoes fresh tasting. It was a nice dish. Summery, even, in a good way.

  3. The dish looks delis and I love your comments about the challenges of food photography. Having only just gotten into the blogging (and food photography) game myself I had no idea I’d become such a slave to daylight. I’m a few photos away from trying to create faux daylight/studio in my living room. Might just put a damper on the dinner parties but I’ll have some better pictures 🙂

    Having been a student in London – and cringing at the dining prices every time I return – I love reading your posts. Looking forward to more.

    • Thanks so much for visiting! (And for the ‘me too’ response; it makes me feel slightly less loony.) My commitment to the budget has slipped a few times, however all the profligacy must come to an end. And I’ve been falling behind in my reviews — must catch up! So hopefully I’ll post more budget eats soon. And if/when I come to DC I’ll hit you up for suggestions.

  4. Susan –

    is it strange that I prefer the picture taken with the flash? The header image does look kind of yellow, like it was taken with someone’s iPhone, or without a good white balance setting.

    I used to hate flash photography, and I definitely don’t use it that often either, but I think you can mitigate the way it makes things look overexposed, shadowed, or flat, by shooting from way farther away than you think you need to – as far away as you can, with the zoom lens all the way in. Nobody ever intended flash photos to be taken from a meter away.

    Otherwise, in general, your photo composition is really good! I feel like you’re using a tripod for some of the header images, like the Black Bean, Coconut, and Lime Soup, but if you aren’t, you totally should be – it’ll make things even crisper. With a tripod, you can get pretty good images without using the flash if you slow your shutter speed to, say, 1/6th of a second, or even longer.

    Something that also helped my photography is that I found daylight-colored compact fluorescent bulbs, and installed them in my kitchen’s big light fixture. If I were Super Serious, sure, I’d probably buy some lights to Properly Light the plates, but I’m not. I just trip over my tripod a lot on the way from the island to the stove.

    Was any of that helpful? Or am I just parroting stuff you already know?


  5. Of course I am still figuring out my lovely SLR camera. So, no, I haven’t tried adjusting my white balance.

    I am not terribly fond of salted capers. I prefer them in brine. I find that good quality brined capers don’t taste vinegary.

  6. I HATE not being able to take photos of anything in the winter – it’s so depressing! But absolutely agree that you should post and share any great recipes regardless, and this one sounds like a winner. I love squid and pasta together, and the addition of capers must add a lovely salty touch. I loved your story about making dinner at breakfast time – not something I’ve ever considered, but on reflection maybe I should 🙂

  7. Very delicious. I used spaghetti as the pasta and also doubled the amount of squid to 1 pound. For squid lovers, I think that is the way to go.The squid was very tender.


    • Hi there,

      Thanks for commenting. I adore anything truffle. I don’t have any recipes for fresh truffles as they’re a bit out of my budget. Truffle oil I just tend to drizzle on very simple dishes, e.g. it’s lovely on roasted jerusalem artichokes and fresh pasta, so I haven’t posted a recipe.

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