Salentino Stewed Octopus in the "Pignata" Clay Pot...
Without the Pignata!
I tried this dish on my recent trip to Lecce in Puglia, South Italy, the region known as the "Salento"- a wonderland of simple, traditional, old, old dishes that really won me over. This was one of my favorites- a dish of octopus, potatoes (optional), tomato, herbs and a dash of white wine... cooked in the "pignata" as they say down there...
...only little did I know, but the pignata they talk about in the Salento, is not the same as the ones I was thinking of back home in Sicily, where it is the generic term for any kind of saucepan. No, the pignata is a tall, terracotta pot in which the ingredients all stew in their own juices- wonderful if you have one- frustrating if you don't!
And OF COURSE this dish will work just fine cooked in a saucepan, whatever the traditions may be... but it IS fun to cook it in terracotta... so if you happen to have a tajine, which many people do have, that would be the perfect alternative!
That is what I used this evening, but as I said- if you don't have one, don't fret, grab yourself a saucepan and use the same method that I did and you will be just fine.
It would have been nice to have had a big, chunky octopus to cook with... but I live on my own and that would be a lot of octopus for one person! Also, we don't have many possibilities to get the larger ones in central Frankfurt- at least I couldn't get one today- so I picked up these small ones instead... thank goodness for Asian supermarkets with freezers is all that I can say!
So, for my dish, I had 3 small octopus, 3 small potatoes, 8 cherry tomatoes, 1 onion, 1 stick of celery, a little rosemary, dried oregano, parsley and a half glass or so of white wine.
This is so much nicer, tastier and more tender and delicious than any of those fried recipes- it is complex and flavorful from the herbs and wine and rich through the tomatoes... add those potatoes into the equation and you have a wonderfully balanced meal, all cooked in one pot... although you might want to have a slice of bread handy to dip in that sauce too! Just sayin'!
The cherry tomatoes simply need cutting into quarters, the potatoes into nice bite-sized pieces, the celery into a fine dice and the onion into thin slices. I love to add the celery leaves too, as they give a great depth of flavor to the sauce. a little crushed garlic is also nice... only, aaargh! I didn't remember to buy any today!
Cut the octopus into nice bite-sized pieces too, or if it is quite small as this one was, leave the thinner tentacles intact. If the pieces are too small they will end up cooking away to nothing, as they do tend to shrink a bit, especially if they stew for quite a while as is the case with this dish.
Start off by adding a generous amount of olive oil to your saucepan or tagine and then adding the octopus as soon as it is nice and hot. Stir it for 3-4 minutes at a high heat, until it changes color, then reduce the heat and let it cook away with the lid on.
For a large sized octopus I would say for 30 minutes, but with these small ones, 15 minutes was just fine.
In the Salento, they say that octopus needs to cook only in its own water, meaning of course the juices. And you know- that is exactly the way it works! Pop on the lid, let it simmer away, and after 5 minutes or so, already there will be a considerable amount of juices in the pan- and of course, they are full of great flavor!
So, after 15 minutes with my little friends and 30 minutes with a large octopus, we are ready to add all of the other ingredients, along with the herbs and about a half glass of wine. For this small amount- 2 servings, I used about 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, 2 sticks of rosemary and 1 bay leaf... you can figure out the math should you want to make more, I'm sure!
As you can see, after around 40 minutes cooking time (1 hour for the large octopus), the potatoes are tender and soft, the juices have rendered down with the tomatoes and the flavors have intensified and cooked right into the octopus, which is now super tender and delicious!
Add a generous sprinkle of finely chopped parsley, a last drizzle of olive oil, set the lid back on top and allow it a further 5 minutes to rest before serving.
And if you bring your tajine to the table and remove the lid there for all to see, prepare to hear some "ooh!'s" and "aah!'s"
Serve with a little freshly ground pepper and as I said- have a little bread close by... just in case... that sauce is so rich and tasty!
One of the best octopus dishes I have ever had- and absolutely one of my favorite dishes at all! Word!
When you think of Italian cooking- do you think of dishes like this? Because if you don't... you should! There is much more to Italian cuisine than spaghetti with tomato sauce and pizza! This stuff is the real deal!
You can just see how tender that is, right?
Perfection. Pride. Pat on my own shoulder. The End.