Sitting across from my friends at a quaint restaurant (the name eludes me) in Venice, I pored over the menu, and ordered the ‘Venetian Style Spaghetti’ from the attractive selection. Every now and then, we turned our heads to find waiters armed with food, and hoped that it was ours.
When our order finally arrived, I was surprised to find a plate of what eerily looked like tar. Spaghetti and cuttlefish pieces were messily blanketed with a thick, lumpy black sauce.
The waiter explained, it was spaghetti with nero di seppia (ink extracted from the ink sacs of cephalopods). Not one to care what food looks like, I dug in without hesitation. It was amazing! The cuttlefish was well-cooked and the pasta retained a heavy taste of the sea. The briny flavour of each bite played in harmony with the cuttlefish.
After a few giant mouthfuls, I looked up. Two disgusted set of eyes looked at me. They were wondering how on earth I had managed to ingest the 'goop' and violently jumped back when I held up a forkful, insisting they try it.
Despite the smorgasbord of options Venetian restaurants had to offer, I seemed incapable of eating anything else on that holiday; I hunted through menus of every other eatery, only to find that each had its own variation. Using ink of squid or cuttlefish is not uncommon in Italian cooking, especially with long pastas and rissotto. Sometimes the dish features prawns, scallops, and other seafood too. It also looked a lot more refined and a lot less unappetising everywhere else since the goopy consistency was missing and the pasta was plated nicely.
A quick search on the internet revealed recipes aplenty. Generally pungent, the ink is used in small amounts to avoid giving the dish an overpowering salty taste. You can extract the ink yourself, get it from a fishmonger or buy pasta that is already infused with the ink. And don’t worry, the ink won’t stain your mouth, or hands; not permanently anyway.