When Stefano was a child, in the summer months he and his family sought reprieve from the heat of Rome at their little house near the town of Latina along the Tyrrhenian Sea, a subdivision of the Mediterranean.
His cousins had a house next door, and most days they went to the beach, sometimes to swim and sometimes to forage mussels along the rocky stretches of coast to bring home for dinner. If the boys went with their fathers, Stefano’s father Andrea and his uncle, Zio Carlo, they travelled by car. If not, they rode the 3 kilometers to the sea on their bicycles. On occasion, they’d observe someone fishing for octopus.
Because octopuses creep and crawl better than they swim, they like to congregate near rocks. Stefano and his cousins watched as fishermen stood on the pier that stretched out over the water and fish for the soft bodied, eight-tentacled creatures. To catch an octopus, they used a polpara, a special lure with a weighted body surrounded by a ring of 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, the fisherman pulled the line up to claim their catch.
Although they rarely fished for octopus, Stefano’s parents often brought one home when they shopped at the fish market. Stefano’s mamma, Maria, would cook it and add it to a summer seafood antipasto, or sometimes let it shine all on its own in in octopus salad, or 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.
- 2 octopuses approximately 500 grams or 1 lb each
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 medium carrots, or a handful of baby carrots
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 bunch of Italian parsley
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 clove garlic
Fill a large pot with about 3 or 4 inches of cold water.
Place the octopuses in the pot along with a bay leaf and a cork from a recently opened bottle of wine.
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 essence, cooking it its own water.
In the meanwhile, dice the carrots and celery finely, and the garlic super-finely. Chop about 2 tablespoons of flat leaf Italian parsley. Place it all together into a medium bowl.
Remove the octopus from the water and pat it dry. 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.
Italian grandmothers swear that a cork in the water renders the octopus more tender. It has not been scientifically proven, but it’s lore we’re happy to promulgate. If you don’t happy to have a cork handy, this is a great excuse to uncork bottle!