Called a soup, this dish reduces tomatoes to their essence, thickened with soaked bread. The tomatoes are cooked until nearly dry, and are almost a sauce. They gain a little heat from a bit of hot pepper. Light crisp calamari are presented atop the tomatoes and garnished with a basil sprig. Serves 4
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small chili pepper, peeled, seeded, and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
1 basil sprig
1 loaf Italian bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick
72 baby fresh calamari, cleaned
1-1/2 cups semolina flour
Grapeseed or canola oil for deep-frying
Salt to taste
4 basil sprigs
To prepare the tomatoes: Put the olive oil, chili pepper, and garlic in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil just begins to smoke, add the tomatoes and the sugar. Season to taste with salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 30 minutes. Tear up the basil and stir it into the tomatoes. Remove from heat and add the bread slices, pressing them into the tomatoes to soak. Let soak 10 minutes, then fold together with a whisk (do not beat), breaking up the bread. Simmer again if necessary until the mixture is nearly dry, then set aside for at least 30 minutes.
To prepare the calamari: Liberally dust the calamari with semolina flour, spanking off the excess. Heat the oil to 360 F in a deep-fryer or deep saucepan. Drop in a handful of calamari and fry quickly, about 1 minute, until cooked through and very lightly browned. Remove with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Do not crowd the pan; fry in batches and allow the oil to return to temperature between each batch. Season to taste with salt.
To serve: Divide the tomato soup among four soup bowls. Arrange calamari in a radial pattern on top of the tomato soup in each bowl. Center each with a basil sprig.