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Pasta Fra Diavolo Topped with Stuffed Squid + Li Veli Orion Primitivo 2018 #ItalianFWT

This month the Italian Food Wine Travel bloggers are pouring, pairing, and writing about Primitivo. Gwendolyn of Wine Predator is hosting; you can read her invite here

If you are reading this early enough, feel free to join in the live Twitter chat on Saturday, November 7th at 8am Pacific time. Follow the hashtag #ItalianFWT and be sure to add that to any of your tweets so we can see it. 

In the meantime, all of these posts will go live between Friday, November 6th and early morning on Saturday, November 7th.

Primitivo, A Grape By Any Other Name...

When Gwendolyn first scheduled this theme, I started digging and realized that I had poured a blend that included Primitivo in January 2018 when I paired Handmade Orechiette with Tomaresca Neprica. I poured the 2010 Neprica from the Tomaresca estate and laughed when I realized that Neprica was simply the first few letters of each of the grapes in the red wine blend. 'Ne' from the Negroamaro grape that comprises 40% of the blend; 'Pri' from the 30% Primitivo addition; and 'Ca' from the Cabernet Sauvignon that makes up the remainder of the fruit in the wine.

A little more research revealed that the Primitivo was thought to have its origin in Croatia, but landed in Italy in the late 1800s. Its name derives from the Latin word primativus, referring to its propensity to ripen before all the other varieties. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that it was determined to be a genetic match to Zinfandel. 

So Primitivo and Zinfandel are the same grape. It is called 'Tribidrag' in Croatia.  Most of its versions seem to be inky and brambly with a lot of fruit on the nose and on the palate. But there are certainly more vibrant and racy versions. Regardless, they all seem to be food-friendly!

I tracked down several different bottles of Primitivo and paired then each with simple pasta as tomato-based sauces work well with Primitivo in my mind. But I settled on sharing the 2018 Li Veli Orion Primitivo from Puglia for this event.

In the Glass

Like most of my wine purchases since the shelter-in-place orders came down in March - for the state of California, anyway - I found this bottle online at Li Veli Orion Primitivo 2018. 

Masseria Li Veli is located on an ancient Messapian site on the Salento Plain. The Messapians were one of three tribes who inhabited Salento between the beginning of the first millennium BC and the first century BC. 'Masseria' is a term used in the Puglia region and refers to a farmhouse of country house on a larger estate.

The Li Veli estate produces wine from mostly native grape varieties and is comprised of over 80 acres of vineyards. While the main focus is on Negroamaro and Primitivo grapes, they do have lesser-known varieties such as Susumaniello, Verdeca, and Minutolo. 

I loved learning that they utilize an ancient form of vinetraining where albarello ('little trees') vines are configured in a hexagonal formation that allows for high-planting density, offers maximum exposure to the sun, and facilitates air circulation. The albarello method of pruning, popular in Southern Italy, helps the vines conserve water because it keeps the vines closer to the ground.

Additionally, all of the grapes at the Li Veli estate are grown using sustainable methods. And all are harvested by hand. 

In the glass this wine poured an inky red with a purplish rim. On the nose there were distinct aromas of ripe red fruits at the front with layers of warm spices beneath. On the palate, this Primitivo was robust with a pronounced acid that added to its crispness. I know that's not something you usually think of with a red wine, but this definitely had a freshness to it and that added to its food-friendliness.

In the Bowl

Though my initial thought was to a simple pasta with meat sauce, I had some ground Hot Sicilian sausages from one of my favorite local meat purveyors Pig Wizard and decided that I wanted to stuff that into squid and make a spicy pasta fra diavolo.


Stuffed Squid
  • 1 pound cleaned squids (How to Clean Squid)
  • olive oil
  • paprika
  • sea salt
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, without the casing (I used the Hot Sicilian from Pig Wizard)

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced (approximately 1 cup)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced (approximately 1 cup)
  • 5 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, without the casing (I used the Hot Sicilian from Pig Wizard)
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper chile flakes or more if you want it spicier
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup wine or water (I used red wine)
  • 2 pounds of seafood (I used a mixture of squid tentacles, cubed fresh tuna, peeled prawns)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Also needed: cooked pasta, bread, and parmesan cheese for serving


After you have cleaned the squid (How to Clean Squid), reserve the tentacles for the pasta sauce. Carefully stuff the sausage into the tubes. Be gentle and don't overstuff them.  

The stuffing will expand when cooking and squeeze out. It's not pretty!

Stitch the open ends together with a toothpick or two.

Bring a large, flat bottom pot full of water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Gently lower the stuffed squid into the water and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes to precook the meat filling. 

After the squid simmers, drain, and remove toothpicks. If you are grilling immediately, skewer the squid and heat your grill or grill pan. If you're cooking at a later time, refrigerate once cooled. At this stage, I made my pasta, then grilled them.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Stir in the Italian sausage and cook until lightly browned. Stir in the onions, garlic, and bell peppers.

Stir in the oregano, basil, and red pepper chile flakes. Stir to distribute evenly, then pour in the tomatoes and wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. 

Now you need to add your seafood in the order of what takes the longest to cook. All of my seafood was quick. If you are using anything in a shell - such as mussels or clams - those will take longer. Take care not to overcook the seafood as it will get dry and rubbery!

Once all of the seafood is cooked, season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and cover while you finish the squid.

Cook the squid on the grill to finish cooking the meat and to get nice grill marks on the squid, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from the grill.

Toss cooked pasta (I used spaghetti) into the sauce. Add a glug or two of olive oil to make it shiny and toss to coat.

Scoop into individual serving bowls and top with a skewer of grilled squid.

Let everyone grate parmesan cheese over the top of their own bowls.

And that's a wrap for the November #ItalianFWT Primitivo event. Next month the bloggers will return with thoughts and pairings about Italian sparkling wine. Just in time for the holidays. I'll be hosting. Stay tuned for more information about that soon.


  1. I'm loving how much your boys like your food! So cool. This dish is something I would try, but I know my husband would love it. The wine sounds amazing and I'll be looking out for it.

    1. Thanks, Terri. Yes, they are good eaters...well-trained. ;)

  2. Your dish looks delicious. I'm sure the pairing was wonderful. How was that Layer Cake Primitivo?

  3. Always enjoy reading about the history... Messapians had a nice site on the plain! Bravo re your pairing. Would you do the same again?

  4. I LOVE stuffed squid and this version looks soooo delicious! Yum

  5. Thanks for mentioning the albarello vinetraining system. I saw that in my research but didn't get into it. As mentioned before, I am in awe of your courageous cooking!


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