Il Polpo (the octopus)

Il Polpo (the octopus)

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Last Friday was a holiday here (the saint’s day for the city – San Petronio). I thought that most of the stores would be closed, but no, a lot of stores and bars (really a cafe here but they’re called bars) were open. The first one that I happened upon after I walked down the hill to Via Saragozza was a fish store (pescheria). I walked inside to browse and there I found fresh octopus. I’ve never seen in fresh in a store in California – never. I really don’t understand why Americans dinon’t seem to like it. Surely it’s the “yuck” factor. Of course 15 or 20 years ago we had the same reaction to calamari but now it seems that almost everybody has not only become accustomed to it but relishes it. Octopus tastes great and is valued in most parts of the world. I’ve eaten it in Mexico, France and Italy and have friends in Germany that not only eat it but cook it at home.

Before I bought it I sent a text message to Cesarina (my host here) and asked if she liked it and if she know how to cook it. She responded in the affirmative to the first question and in the negative to the second. I’ve never cooked it but, what the heck, I decided to give it a try. For whatever reason she found it hilarious that I’d bought it anyway. As an aside she found it quite inventive when I added some parsely to a tomato sauce that I made – she’s quite traditional. So I trudged home with the critter and checked the web for a recipe. It said to put in the freezer overnight and thaw it in the fridge the next day so that’s exactly what I did.

I was dreading cleaning it. I’ve cleaned a lot of squid and they are pretty disgusting to clean and was afraid that octopus would be worse. But, no, it was really easy to clean. It was also quite easy to cook. Following the recipe I quartered and onion and added it to a pot of water along with 3 or 4 garlic cloves and a little bit of red pepper flakes a couple of bay leaves. Cesarina caught the spirit of adventure and tossed in some tomato scraps. What the heck, it would probably be good. So you cook it for whatever time. The recipe that I had said to cook it for an hour but I tested it after 30 minutes and it was fairly tender and I didn’t want it too soft. I suggested that we use the octopus cooking water to cook some pasta and Cesarina thought that I was a genius. So after extracting the octopus I cooked the spaghetti and it was indeed a great idea. I cut up the octopus into small pieces, coins for the legs and similarly sized pieces for the rest and topped the spaghetti with it. It was delicious! Cesarina contributed some thin grilled eggplant and bell pepper slices for the contorno (side dish) and a bottle of white wine made by neighbors of her daughter and it was a great meal. I had also stopped by a pasticceria (pastry shop) for a couple of baba’ au rum which we had for desert along with a little cup of espresso and, of course, some grappa. A fine meal indeed.

By the way, at the school here they said that the origin of baba’ au rhum (the italian spelling) is Neapolitan but Wikipedia disagrees. Probably a good point of discussion between a Frenchman and an Italian. Regardless of origin, it is indeed now a very traditional Neapolitan dessert.

Unfortunately I was too busy consuming the meal to take some photos so you’ll have to use your imagination.

2 Responses to “Il Polpo (the octopus)”

  1. Michelle Gabriel Says:

    If you learn how to make baba’ au rhum, I will be begging you for it.

  2. Joe Says:

    I think it’s pretty easy. I’ll let you know if I manage to make it.


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