Although Delfina has been closed, hunkering down in pandemic mode since the middle of March 2020, the memories of its food are as vivid as they are indelible.
Among its most iconic dishes is an antipasto that has headlined the menu since the restaurant's opening in 1998: grilled calamari with warm white bean salad.
The squid, pristinely fresh from Monterey, is grilled over a wood fire to a smoky deliciousness and served on a bed of white beans cooked with garlic and sage, and bitter greens dressed in a vinaigrette, then garnished with Taggiasca olives and lemon zest, and a drizzle of the garlicky Italian condiment, agliata. Earthy, smoky, savory and tangy, the totality of flavor is mesmerizing.
While the recipe might seem complex at first glance, the individual steps are quite simple, and some of the components (the beans, the vinaigrette, and the agliata) can be prepared days in advance. This recipe serves four, comfortably.
Delfina's grilled calamari salad, pictured with arancini.(Nick Czap)
Equipment and tools
Charcoal grill (a gas grill is also fine, as is the broiler in your oven)
9-inch skewers (wood or metal) for grilling the squid
Mortar and pestle for making the agliata
For the beans
3/4 lb. rice beans, navy beans, or other small white beans
6 to 8 springs of sage (large leaves)
3 to 4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (use the best you can afford)
For the greens and vinaigrette
1 bunch frisée
2 ounces arugula leaves
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
3 ounces Champagne vinegar
9 ounces pure olive oil
For the squid (Bi-Rite sells fresh Monterey squid; water2table.com sells frozen)
2 lbs. calamari, cleaned (guts, cartilage and beak removed) but not skinned (if possible); tentacles separated from the bodies.
Pure olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
For the garnish
1/2 cup Taggiasca olives, drained
Zest of 1 lemon
For the agliata
1 clove garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch Italian parsley, very finely chopped
Preparation and Serving
Cook the beans: Combine beans, sage leaves and garlic in a large pot. Add water to cover by about 4" and bring to a boil. Add salt, reduce to a very low simmer and cook for about 2 hours, or until the beans are completely cooked through -- creamy with no grittiness. (Do not stir the beans, and do not stop cooking early with the assumption that the beans will finish cooking with the residual heat. They will not.) Allow the beans to cool, and then store the beans in their cooking liquid. The beans can be cooked up to 2 days in advance. (Note: Depending on their freshness and size, the beans may need to be pre-soaked. In that case, follow the directions on the package.)
Make the agliata: Combine the garlic and salt in a mortar and pound to a paste. (If you don't have a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic into a paste on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife or the bottom of a pint glass.) With a rubber spatula, transfer the garlic paste into a stainless steel bowl. Add half of the extra virgin olive oil, a little at a time, whisking until incorporated. Then whisk in the rest of the oil and stir in the parsley. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Set aside. The agliata can be made 2 days in advance.
Make the vinaigrette: Macerate the chopped shallots and vinegar in a stainless steel bowl for 20 minutes. Season with abundant amounts of salt and pepper and then whisk in the pure olive oil.
Skewer the squid: If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for a few hours ahead of time. Skewer the squid bodies in groups of three or four, running one skewer through the top of the body and a second skewer through the bottom part of the body, just above the opening. Skewer each body in the same manner, lining the bodies up in parallel between the two skewers. Skewer the tentacles separately, each on their own skewer.
Prepare the lemon zest: Peel the lemon in wide strips using just enough pressure to remove only the skin and not the pith beneath. Stack a couple of pieces on top of one another and julienne in fine, lengthwise strips. When all of the zest has been julienned blanch in boiling water for one minute. Drain and cool on a dinner plate.
Season and grill the squid: Lay the calamari out on a platter, season with salt and pepper and brush with oil. Grill over white coals until squid begins to firm up slightly and take on some nice color (approximately 3 to 5 minutes). Flip and grill on the other side (about 2 minutes). Remove from grill when cooked and allow to rest on a plate. (If you don't have a grill, use your broiler instead.)
Plate the beans: While squid is grilling, gently transfer the cooked beans and their liquid to a wide, shallow pan. Bring up to a rapid simmer and stream in ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil. Toss gently to incorporate the oil, being as gentle as possible in order to keep the beans from breaking up. Spoon the beans and their liquid onto a large platter or smaller individual plates as you prefer.
Dress and plate the greens: Put the greens in a stainless steel bowl and season with a little salt and pepper. Shake or whisk the vinaigrette, pour an appropriate amount over the greens, and toss well. Arrange the dressed greens on top of the beans.
Plate the calamari and garnish: Arrange the grilled calamari on the platter or the individual plates (3-4 squid per person) with the beans and the greens in an attractive manner. Scatter the olives around the platter, stir up and then drizzle on the agliata, making sure to put some on each squid body, and then scatter on some lemon zest.
// While Delfina restaurant remains closed due to Covid-19, Delfina Pizzeria (multiple locations) is open for takeout and delivery; the Mission location (3611 18th St.) is open for outdoor dining; pizzeriadelfina.com.