Taste columnist Nancy Leson takes restaurant dishes and runs (home) with them.


I GET SOME of my best ideas in restaurants. Like this one:

Slice a head of escarole in half, lengthwise, leaving the stem end intact. Drizzle with olive oil, grill briefly, spritz with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. What have you got? A quick-and-easy side dish — and a recipe that lives on long after its source of inspiration, Seattle’s Italian steakhouse Troiani, closed shop.

In Ballard last winter, I was so taken with a chicory salad at Delancey I heard angels singing. There was escarole in that one, too, plus Treviso (radicchio), sheep’s-milk feta, pistachios and a lemon vinaigrette adding tart counterpoint to sweet sections of heirloom orange. Days later, I reproduced that vibrant salad and served it at a bridal shower, where it almost outshone the bride. It’s one I’ll be preparing for years to come.

This summer, another “steal this recipe!” revelation occurred on the patio at the Pink Door in the Pike Place Market. An antipasto of “sautéed calamari with spinach, tomatoes, garlic and wine” beckoned. I bit. What appeared was not, as anticipated, the rings and tentacles we know and love, but thick-cut ribbons of this kid’s favorite squid: calamari steak.

What do you want to bet your local grocer has those easy-to-fix, easy-on-the-budget steaks? An unofficial survey of seafood counters and specialty markets proves these creamy-white slabs of giant squid bodies, pre-tenderized and sold by the pound (or the piece), are widely available. Don’t see them? Ask. Kept frozen, they thaw quickly, and a little of this rich protein goes a long way.

Use squid steaks instead of chicken. Breaded and swiftly sautéed until golden, a single steak is perfect for piccata. Slice it for stir-fries or deep-fries.

Or, do as chef Steve Smrstik does at the Pink Door and serve it as a starter. I’ve played around with his recipe several times and served it as a main over pasta. You might consider using white wine, as I did, instead of red. Fresh herbs instead of dried. Arugula instead of spinach.

Remember, it’s your kitchen. And you’re the chef.

Nancy Leson is Pacific NW’s food writer. She can be reached at nleson@seattletimes.com. Benjamin Benschneider is the magazine staff photographer.

Calamari Steak alla the Pink Door

Serves 4

1 ½ pounds calamari steaks (approx. 5 steaks)

For the marinade

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped (or use a Microplane)

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes

Black pepper, to taste

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

To finish

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup dry white wine

14.5-ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried basil

Salt and pepper (to taste)

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped

1. Rinse the calamari steaks, pat dry with paper towels and slice into ¼-inch-wide strips (they should look like thick-cut noodles). Toss with the olive oil, lemon zest, parsley, garlic, chili flakes, pepper and salt in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or as long as overnight.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy-bottom saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the marinated squid, distributing slices evenly. Don’t disturb until it starts to lightly brown around the edge. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add wine, cook 30 seconds. Add chopped tomatoes. Season with oregano and basil, salt and pepper. Cook three minutes. Add butter and spinach, toss until it wilts.

4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to 4 plates. Reduce any remaining pan juices over high heat (this should take less than a minute) and extra-sauce each plate.