Swirl of pasta with calamari on a gold-rimmed white plate atop a Christmas themed napkin with a matte gold fork.
Photography, Art Direction & Food Styling: Anthony Contrino

My grandma’s sister, Jessie, used to make this sauce (one of two fish sauces to choose from on the Eve) every year.  She would make it in a pressure cooker to quicken the process, but I don’t have room for one, so this stovetop method is my go-to.  

With calamari (or galamahd, as we Sicilian Italian-Americans say) you either need to cook it quickly or let it stew.  There is no in-between.  Once added to the hot pot, it will cook almost immediately, but within a few minutes will become rubbery.  By stewing them in the tomatoes, they will become tender once again. The wonderful thing is, once you’ve stewed them, you can cool the sauce and reheat it later on so it’s one less thing to worry about on such a busy holiday.

Aunt Jessie’s Christmas Eve Sauce

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings: 12


  • 2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced into half moons
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving, optional
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 90 ounce can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand *SEE NOTE
  • 2 pounds calamari, cleaned, tubes sliced into ½ rounds, tentacles halved
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 pounds linguine, cooked to al dente
  • Parsley, for serving


  • In a large Dutch oven, cook the onions in the oil over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the onions have softened but have not taken on any color, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 2 additional minutes.
  • Add the wine and cook until it is almost fully evaporated, about 2 minutes more.
  • Add the tomatoes, calamari and pepper and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the calamari is tender, about 1 hour.
  • Season with salt, to taste.
  • Serve with linguine and garnish with chopped parsley.
Course: Pasta
Author: Anthony Michael Contrino