When Stefano was a child, he used to fish for polpi (octopuses) in the summer months when his family left the heat of Rome for their little house near the town of Latina along the Tyrrhenian Sea, a subdivision of the Mediterranean.
Because octopuses creep and crawl better than they swim, they like to congregate near rocks. Thus, Stefano and his cousins used to stand on the pier that stretched out over low cliffs and fish for the eight-tentacled creatures. To catch an octopus, they used a special lure called a polpara, which had a little weighted body surrounded by fish hooks. The polpara was attached to a line, which they bobbed up and down to catch the octopus’ attention.
When a curious octopus wrapped its tentacles around the lure, they boys pulled the line up to claim their catch. Back home, Stefano’s mamma, Maria, or his aunt, Zia Elena, cooked the octopus and made a delicious antipasto of insalata di polpo.
Here in the land-locked upper Midwest of the United States, we fish for our octopus at the local seafood market, and enjoy the squeals of awe from our friends and family who’ve never handled or eaten this delicious sea creature.
Two octopuses, approximately 500 grams or around 1 pound each.
2 carrots, or a handful of baby carrots
2 stalks celery
A bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
Juice of 2 lemons
1 clove garlic
Place the octopuses and a cork from a recently opened bottle of wine into a large pot of cold water. If you don’t have a bottle open, this is a great excuse to uncork one! No-one knows why, but southern Italians swear that a cork in the water renders the octopus more tender. Bring the water to a boil, and then let boil gently for 20 minutes. Turn off heat, and allow the octopus to cool to room temperature in the water it was cooked in.
Il polpo si cuoce nell’acqua sua.
Remove the octopus from the water and pat it dry with paper towels. Cut into small pieces, and add it to the bowl. Cover with extra-virgin olive oil, stir in the juice of one lemon, and salt to taste. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes for the flavors to express themselves, then serve.