1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil – for the tomato/garlic mixture
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil – for the dressing
4 cloves garlic - thinly sliced
2-3 Tbs thinly sliced fennel bulb (reserve fronds and stalks)
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes)
1 cup grape tomatoes
Kosher salt - to taste
freshly ground pepper - to taste (or Aleppo pepper)
1 pound calamari - cut into 1/2-inch rings (defrost if frozen)
1 small lemon - zest and juice
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon or Italian flat-leaf parsley - leaves roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint - leaves roughly chopped
1/4 cup mixed brine-packed olives (Niçoise, Kalamata, Picholine, etc.)
¼ cup cutting celery, chopped fine or thinly sliced celery stalks (inner stalks) and leaves (optional)
6 ounces brine packed feta cheese (optional), cut into ½-inch cubes
Make the dressing: Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon zest and juice, along with some salt and pepper into a small lidded container. Shake vigorously to mix (or use a whisk). Set aside.
For the salad: In a sauté pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and fennel and sauté gently; don’t let the garlic color, you are only trying to release its fragrance. This should take about 30 seconds. As soon as the air fills with the rich scent of garlic, add the tomatoes and Aleppo pepper (or red chili flakes) along with a good pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Sauté for an additional 3-5 minutes, just until the tomatoes begin to soften—don’t let them burst. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
In a large saucepan, bring a couple of quarts of water to a gentle boil. Add enough kosher salt to make the water taste like the sea. If you think of it, throw in a couple of fresh or dried bay leaves and a slice or two of fresh ginger root. As soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, add the calamari (defrosted and drained if previously frozen). Watch the pot carefully; calamari cooks very quickly, so as soon as the rings turn opaque (30 seconds to a minute)—drain the pot into a colander, then immediately plunge the calamari into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Rapid cooking is the secret to tender calamari, so be vigilant in watching the clock and then “shocking” the calamari in the ice water.
As soon as the calamari are cool (a couple of minutes at the most) drain thoroughly in a colander. Pat dry; then add to the cooled tomato, fennel, and garlic mixture. Add the reserved dressing and mix well. If you are going to serve the salad within the next four hours, now is the time to add the olives, and optional celery and feta, as well as the herbs. If you are not serving the salad until the next day, hold off on adding the herbs until shortly before serving to preserve their bright green color.
Serve at room temperature or chilled.