Apr 16, 2009

Purpetielli Affogati - stewed Baby Octopus recipe

When I was a young girl, my beach friends and I used to go skin diving on shallow reefs along the Amalfi coast, just between Positano and Praiano, and came home with octopus almost every day. We’d set off early in the morning with our blue & red canvas materassini (inflatable rafts), snorkeling masks and a piece of white cloth tied to a string.

We'd swim what felt like 300 miles hugging the coastline to reach the designated fishing spot, elected by the group's elder, Gianluca. He was 13, and we were all still in the third grade. We'd arrive breathless and sweaty (odd the sensation of sweating in water), scanning the shallow rocks beneath us. Half clung to the materassino, head plunged below water's edge, we'd let the string unfurl and start playing with the octopi. Cephalopods are like kittens, wave anything at them, like a piece of white cloth tied to a string, and they'd float right out from under their rocky enclave to chase the billowing fabric.

We would farm an average 8 to 12 polpi each in a little under 3 hours, just in time to swim back to our beach, parade the catch across town, and get home for lunch.

Normally, I would never share this secret (yet very easy) recipe. Call me selfish, but some tricks are best kept unsaid. I however can't stay a day without pampering you all with my silly stories, my kitchen tips and my family recipes. It's what I do. I like to cook and then write about it. I love it when my food gets complimented, even if only savored in a virtual world. When a fellow blogger actually sends me feedback of proven recipes being a success, my heart flies. This is how I show my love.


Here's the recipe for Purpetielli (Neapolitan for polpetti, little octopi) affogati, which is a cooking term used commonly for savory dishes stewed in flavorsome tomatoes and wine, which means drowned.

purpetielli affogati - stewed octopusThe ideal mollusks to use for this dish would be the tiny moscardini (8 tentacles, single line of suction cups on each), but any small, tender kind will work. The smaller the octopus, the lower chance of a chewy, rubbery outcome, once cooked.

Polpo in fact, requires long, slow simmering, so keep your temperatures low and give yourself plenty of time. I like to do this with the baby octopus you find frozen in Asian markets, but as I said before, you can use any kind. Serve with homestyle, crusty bread for sopping up droolworthy sauce and juices, and keep the wine bottle well chilled.

8 small octopi, weighing an average of 150gr each (5 oz)
500 g (2 1/2 cups) plum tomatoes, chopped
250 ml (1 cup) dry, white wine
2 garlic cloves
A small bunch parsley, minced (optional, I don't use it)
100 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
1 small fiery red peperoncino hot pepper, crushed
Salt to taste

Clean and trim any hard or non-edible parts of the polpetti, like the beak, entrails, stomach sac, eyes, gladius and bony innards. If you don't want to do all this, have your fishmonger clean and prepare them for you to take home.

Take a medium, high-sided pot, and put all the ingredients in it, adding a little water as well.

Cover the pot, bring it to a boil, and simmer the octopuses drenched in the sauce for 20 minutes, after about 10 minutes, check seasoning. Serve with the sauce and lots of bread for mandatory scarpetta (a divine Italian table custom I will post about in the near future).

Tip: A popular belief suggests that to make polpetti (or any other size of octopi for that matter) become more tender during cooking, they must be stewed with a cork stopper in the cooking pot.
It actually works, so take that smirk off your face.

purpetielli affogati - stewed octopus


  1. I've only had octopus a couple of times... and I've certainly never cooked it myself. I am just so stunned at all the work you did and how beautiful (and tasty) this dish looks!

  2. It's actually a lot easier than it looks!

  3. By jove, I do remember this one, a delectable dish indeed. When Mother cooked the big ones she used to stuff them. Have you heard of that? Come si chiamano quelli grandi?

  4. Rosaria - quelli grandi si chiamano semplicemtne polpi. Imbottiti di pangrattato, olive, pezzetti di tentacoli, e altri meravigliosi sapori...mmmh! Che origini hai tu, di quale regione?

  5. This looks so good. I'm clipping it for future use!

  6. I so want to try this! I'm not sure where to find the octopus, here in Arizona. This looks worth the research in trying to find some though!

    1. You can find them fresh or frozen in the market at Chinese cultural center on 44 th Street. Buon appetito

    2. Thanks Shannon for the great tip!

  7. Theresa - Tell me when you do...

    LaDue - I'm sure there'll be a way to get some. Buon appetito!

  8. my 6 year old eats octopus ... while I sit and stare! I can't get past the look and the feel, but she loves it. Thank goodness we have a Chinese Buffet here that cooks it for her!!
    Maybe if I had done the work it would be easier.

  9. The best stories from the best cook ever.

    It looks delicious. That sauce or juice or whatever looks yummy.

    Love Renee xoxo

  10. Lola,
    I have to say octopus is not a favourite of mine but I love to read your post just the same...

    that last pic with the octopus..I think he's got his eye on you...

  11. It looks good in theory...but...baby...octopus...OK, I had octopus once in Taiwan and I think I still have a sticky tentacle in my mouth and that was about 15 years ago...

  12. Sorry, cara, but this flatlander cannot do tenacles. Nor organ meat or anything slimy.

    But your photos were beautiful and I loved the story of your childhood hunt.

    We used to go to the creek in our neighborhood for crawdads. We would wrap bacon around a rock, tie it up with string and lower it near a rock. Those nasty things would scamper out in a heartbeat. (And no, I did not eat them.)

  13. Lola, The Octopus Hunter! I seem to be deeply indulged in your writings, very nice! Wow, that must have been fun in those waters! I also feel very honored to except this dish of joy. I love octopus! Grazie :)

  14. P.S. I am still posting. Blogger has a problem and my new posts are not being feed to other bloggers' bloglists so it appears as if I am stuck with Florence!

    I am feeling very lonely today!

  15. Hi Lola,

    You know you should write a cookbook, don't you? I like your Italian dishes better than those in my big ol' Marcella Cucina book.

    So, I was about to try the handmade pasta tonight, and then the family plan fell through, so I did not do it. I will prevail, though. And those gnocchi you had the other day. Must try, must try. Must diet a few days and then try.

    Lola, even though we savor your work through cyberspace we ARE real people out here. My hubby reminds me of that sometimes. I'm still getting used to this new way we communicate--so close and yet so far, and sometime I want to post on it. In the meantime know that real actual people living in other parts of the world love your food!

    Ciao....(is it real Italian to say Ciao bella?)


  16. Not that I know anything about octopi, but I would never have guessed they are like kittens. That is a fun fact I will definitely remember.

  17. yum! how beautiful that dish looks! I would like to eat some now, but I think i'll let our fish market prepare it for me. those beaks always kind of freak me out!
    ♥ lori

  18. Ciao Lola! What a fabulous story! That must have a fun time. One time when I was in Cetara, I walked past an old man down by the port just as he pulled in a huge octopus on his little string. He looked so pleased, and headed of toward home. At the time, I wondered how he or his wife might prepare it. I bet it was something like this. Thank you so much for sharing your secrets from the kitchen. When I get back to Amalfi I will certainly be trying this one out! Do you think this cooking method also work for, say, gamberetti? Grazie!

  19. CarrieJ - your daughter is very smart, I like her!

    Renee - Glad you like it, sweetheart!

    Delwyn - All blog problems fixed? Don't be lonely! Is the sun shining? Take a walk, breathe in the spring. Then eat a substantial meal. Preferably with some wine.

    Erin - Tell me about Taiwan!!!!

    Patrizia - Are you vegetarian? I don't know what crawdads are... (sheepish and hunched over)

    Chuck - Buon appetito!

    Sallymandy - I did! It's just not published yet... keep fingers and toes crossed.

    Laura - Definitely not gamberetti, no! Those find their best end in a skillet with 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 garlic clove and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Sauté x2 minutes tops then in mouth.


  20. Ciao Lola! Mmmm... black pepper and gamberetti. I will try that for sure. Thanks for setting me straight! :-)

  21. I'm not sure whether to try and make this or whether to just get on a plane to Italy so I can share yours with you!
    I can tell just from reading this that it's a divinely scrummy dish! Slurp!

  22. You know my fear of octopus and lack of love for eating anything with tentacles. I remember your mom telling us the story of how she freaked your dad out by dangling an octopus tentacle from the side of her mouth. Frankly, I think it may have freaked me out. To this day, I only eat the round part of calamari, which I learned from you are the heads of the tiny squids, cut into rings. Amazing how you my relationship with octopus and related species are linked to you and your family. In any case, my point of the commentary is that if I am compelled to attempt to cross the bridge into "octo-food" if presented with the dish described so delectably in your blog! Baci

  23. Great recipe.
    Great story.
    Great English.
    You rock, girl!

    I wish I could prepare my famous octopus stew for you (you need a largish verace for that though.)

  24. Juanriccio~
    Thank you for the awesome kudos!
    Now I want to know more about your famous octopus stew (and the largish verace...)