If I could take credit for it, I’d be reluctant to boast and admit that guests at Old Tioga Farm frequently extol our fried calamari as the best they’ve ever had. As it is, I can take little credit. The credit all goes to the simplest but most exquisite of all frying batters, which Italians call pastella. Like Japanese tempura (which happens to be more complex to make), ingredients dipped in pastella batter and fried become encased in the most crisp and delicate crust I’ve ever experienced. No one needs an American style “dipping sauce” to enjoy these beauties. Seasoned with a bit of salt, they are perfect on their own, perhaps garnished in the Italian style with a bit of lemon.
To make the batter, combine a cup of water with 2/3 cup of flour. That is the basic ratio, but the difficult thing about the batter is that it becomes much less interesting if the ratio isn’t perfect. Sometimes a little more flour or water is needed. The only way to know is to test. Fry a few pieces of squid, or whatever, and then add a bit more water and do it again until you obtain a crust of exquisite delicacy. The consistency should be very similar to that of heavy cream. Squid is great this way, as are shrimp. Sliced zucchini are perfect, as are that most sensual of all ingredients if you are lucky enough to have a garden: squash blossoms. Just be sure the oil is deep and hot enough (1/2 to 1 inch deep and 365 degrees). When the temperature is right, the oil will sizzle instantly when you add the ingredients.