Octopus has always been one of my favorite summer bites. I remember spending my summers while growing up in a small town called Quercianella; my grandfather had a house about a mile from the coast and we would spend many fun weeks there every year. Wearing my snorkel and exploring every inch of water I could was my daily mission. I would wear a small knife on my thigh, carry my little red ballon attached with a string to my wrist and hang underneath it a small net to collect my finds, from sea urchin shells to bottle caps. My grandparents used to drag me to the beach very early in the morning, by 9 am we would already be all set under our rented cabana; but not my friends, they would stroll in always a couple of hours later, leaving me to discover that after all… less people swimming and the earlier morning hours were in fact the perfect recipe for what became memorable explorations and wonderful memories.
One of those quiet mornings I was invited by our lifeguard to go fish with spears; he would start working at 10 and had some time to kill… literally! Ten minutes later we were floating slowly trying to scope any possible pasta sauce ingredient to share afterwards. I will never forget. The glare of the morning Sun, low on the water, was spaying rays of light on the bottom of the sea, creating patterns on rocks and sand, it was so damn beautiful and relaxing. All of the sudden Ramon, yeah his real name, tapped me on my shoulder and started pointing at something with his hand. A moment later, with quiet moves he was diving lower and lower, parallel to the bottom of the sea, until he made a move. A bubble of black stained the water, and all of a sudden, all wrapped around the head of the spear I see it. Fighting, giving all it had, now that all of the sudden camouflaging is not a priority task, the octopus has the color of sand.. and I can see it clearly. Ramon grabbed the octopod with his hands, and with a magic trick tied it with a string to the side of his speedo. Mothers and Grandmothers, they all loved Ramon!
By the time we got out of the water we had a few octopus under our belts (his) and went back ashore to share the bounty. He showed me how to tenderize the meat by slamming the octopus on a rock for about 10 minutes. The rock has to be by the water, so the octopus can slide on the wet stone without getting destroyed. A final act of our hunting morning, getting the fish ready for the cooler so Ramon could start his day at work and I could go grab a snack and dry up right before my friends arrived. My grandfather would play with it in the evening, and we all would have dinner out under the pine trees. I would feel like a superhero.
This recipe is a celebration of those days. Impossible to cook it without each time going down memory lane and feeling very nostalgic.
Serves: 4-6 / Prep time: 20 minutes / Cook time: 60 minutes
- 3 russet potatoes, washed
- 1 1/2 octopus (or frozen- but thawed)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced into quarters
- 1 (5 ounce) box baby rucola
- 1 tablespoons finely sliced chives
- 1 lemon, for serving
1Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the octopus, a couple of cloves of garlic, carrot, celery, and white wine vinegar. Stir well and cover with a lid, lower the flame and cook slowly for about 30 minutes, then turn off the flame and let the octopus cool off in the cooking water for about 10 minutes.
2Add 2 potatoes to a pot of cold water and boil until just tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain, let cool and dice into 1-inch cubes.
3In a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat until hot, add potatoes and brown on all sides, about 5-7 minutes. Add tomatoes and flip through so they soften. Remove form heat.
4Remove head from octopus (discard the tooth and save to use in a soup or in a sauce) and chop tentacles into ½ inch pieces.
5Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet over high heat. Once almost smoking, add octopus in one layer and cook without touching for 5-6 minutes. Flip once it has a nice sear and color. Continue cooking the other side, again without touching, for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for a few moments, just the time to open a beer or a bottle of wine.
6Toss in the rucola and jump in the pan until all ingredients are mixed and the residual heat starts wilting the salad.Serve with a sprinkle of chives, some freshly ground pepper and a squeeze of lemon.