One of my first recipes for this website was for ‘spaghetti and cuttlefish in cuttlefish ink sauce’ or spaghetti al nero di seppia. This recipe is one of the more popular pages on this site and the dish is still one of my personal favorites… and you know what they say “never change a winning team”. Then again, they also say “change is inevitable” … and so I have inevitably found another Italian classic cuttlefish ink recipe that is quickly becoming one of my favorites. This risotto al nero di seppia is full of that briny umami-rich cuttlefish ink which gives this velvety rice dish its distinctive glossy and dark look and seafood-y richness, it’s got lots of tender pieces of fresh squid (or cuttlefish, if you can find any) mixed in as well and is topped with a bright orange shaved ‘bottarga‘, or in my case, Greek avgotaraho.
Traditionally, this Venetian recipe is made with both cuttlefish as well as their inksacs. In Greece, it’s easy for me to find fresh cuttlefish (plus their ink) at the fish market, but I know that’s not the case for everyone in other countries. Luckily, the cuttlefish can be easily substituted for a large squid, as I’ve done for this post today.
What’s the difference between squid and cuttlefish then? Texture-wise, the large cuttlefish are often a little thicker and meatier than squid and they tend to need a bit more time to cook. Flavor-wise the cuttlefish meat tastes slightly stronger as well while squid is said to have a stronger tasting ink that is slightly fishier not well-liked by everyone (I like it though). For this recipe, use whichever is your favorite or whichever is more easily available to you.
Whichever you choose, you will probably have to supplement the ink that comes with either of the cephalopods with a good amount of extra cuttlefish ink (which you can buy from certain supermarkets and delis in little jars) if you’re aiming to get that super jet-black look and briny taste.
The grated/sliced bottarga gives the dish that extra bit of luxury, an extra briny boost and a fleck of color, but it’s totally optional, especially if you’re adding lots of flavorful ink already.
Tip: You can find out how to clean and how to remove an inc sac from cuttlefish in this post here.
Cuttlefish Ink Risotto with Squid and Bottarga / Risotto al Nero di Seppia con Calamari e Bottarga
- 500g fresh squid, or cuttlefish (ink sacs intact)
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely minced
- 3+1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 350g Arborio, or carnaroli rice
- 250ml dry white wine
- 1.2 – 1.5l good-quality vegetable broth
- 150g cherry- or grape tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon extra cuttlefish ink (use up to 1.5 - 2 teaspoons in case you don’t have any inksac from your squid or cuttlefish)
- 30g knob of butter
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Bottarga or Greek avgotaraho, for garnish
- Clean squid, or cuttlefish (reserve the ink sac) and peel off the skin. Cut into smallish cubes (no bigger than 1cm) or thin rings (whichever you like). Leave tentacles whole to decorate the dish if you wish.
- Bring your stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Add the squid tentacles and allow to cook for 1 – 2 minutes, then remove from stock onto a plate. Set aside until later.
- Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a large high-rimmed frying pan or stockpot over medium-high heat (reserve the one tablespoon of oil for later). Add the onion and sauté until translucent, then add the cubed/sliced squid or cuttlefish. Season with a little salt and pepper.
- Add half of the wine and allow the squid/cuttlefish to cook for 10 - 15 minutes until it’s turned opaque and the liquid has mostly evaporated. This step starts the cooking proces of the squid to allow it to tenderise easier during the cooking of the rice.
- Add the rice to the pan with the squid and onion and stir for a minute or two, then add the rest of the white wine and stir until most has been absorbed.
- Cut open the squid-, or cuttlefish ink sacs and add the contents to the rice together with 250ml of the stock (about a cup). If you don't have inc sacs, or in case they are very small, add about a teaspoon of ink from a jar.
- Cook and stir over medium-high heat until most of the liquid has been absorbed then add another ladle of stock. Repeat until all of the liquid is added and the rice is cooked through, but the kernels remain a little al dente and the mixture has turned creamy (this should take about 25 - 30 minutes). If the rice hasn’t reached your preferred consistency once you run out of stock, add a bit more boiled water and cooking time.
- In the meantime, when your rice is almost done, slice the 150g cherry- or grape tomatoes in half. In a small frying pan over high heat, add the reserved tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the tomatoes with a pinch of salt until they are heated through and start to wrinkle slightly. Then stir them into the risotto.
- Once the rice has reached the preferred consistency, turn off the heat and vigorously stir in the butter. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed, and add a bit of extra cuttlefish ink to make the mixture very black, if necessary.
- Divide risotto over plates and decorate with the reserved squid tentacles and some grated bottarga or avgotaraho on top. Serve immediately.