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.
The 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.