Piquillo peppers are Spanish peppers that are red, long and taper at the end. They are sweet and a little spicy. You can get canned piquillo peppers at gourmet grocery stores. In a pinch, you can use pepperoncini, an Italian small sweet pepper that can be green or red. This piquillo pesto is packed with tangy flavour, a delicious contrast to the salty, crispy calamari. I use 2 cloves of garlic because I love the intense garlic flavour, but if garlic isn’t your thing, feel free to use only 1 clove. This yields 4 servings as an appetizer.
Mix flour, cornmeal, cayenne, paprika, and salt in a shallow dish.
Put the grape seed oil in a small, deep pot with a candy thermometer. The oil should be 2 inches deep but shouldn’t be any deeper than half the height of the pot. Heat oil to 350 degrees F.
In small batches, dredge the calamari rings in the flour mixture and shake off any excess.
Slide the calamari into the hot oil and fry for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden, crisp and just cooked through.
Do not over cook the calamari or it will be rubbery.
Drain on paper towels.
Combine all the ingredients except the olive oil, Parmesan and salt and pepper in a small food processor.
Pulse until the mixture is almost smooth but still has some texture.
With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated.
Add the Parmesan and season to taste.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Serve the Calamari with lemon wedges and the Piquillo Pesto.