Neapolitan octopus salad is a delicious and healthy summer dish, loved by every Italian.
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Octopus is not widely consumed in Northern Europe, despite being very cheap and quite healthy: low in calories, very high in protein, and naturally low in fat. It contains many vitamins and important nutrients, though it is very high in cholesterol.
But don’t let that put you off from eating this delicious and underrated seafood: just don’t eat it every day, if you can resist!
Ingredients (4 servings)
1 kg octopus
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lemon, squeezed
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Start by cleaning the octopus: with a paring knife, cut just below the eyes, then go around them and cut them off (you want to keep the head attached to the tentacles, so make the cut small and restricted to the eye area). Then look between the tentacles and cut away the beak (easier done when accessing from the inside).
Make a small cut from the base of the head, where the eyes were, lengthways towards the top, stopping halfway: for this task, use a pair of sharp scissors. Remove all the interior, rinsing often with running water, until all the impurities from the head and the sand caught in and under the suction cups are gone.
Very important: do not remove the skin, as the octopus will get hard and stringy when cooked. If you're not sure what you're doing, ask your fishmonger to clean it for you.
A fisherman cleaning an octopus in Naples. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP
2. With a meat mallet, beat the whole octopus for at least 10 minutes: this will break all the hard muscle fibres and result in much tender meat.
3. Fill a large casserole, put it on high heat and bring the water to the boil. Salt the water. Take the octopus and dip the tentacles several times: this will curl them, resulting in a very pleasant presentation.
Lower the heat to minimum before adding the whole octopus. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes (you need to allow 20 minutes' cooking time for every 500g of octopus). If you wish, you can remove the foam and other residues that will surface as it boils with a slotted spoon.
4. Before draining, make sure the octopus is throughly cooked by stabbing it with a fork: the fork has to go through without meeting resistance. Once ready, drain it and put it a bowl with iced water to stop the cooking.
After about 10 minutes, remove it from the bowl and put it on a cutting board: with a knife, remove the head and cut it squares of about 2 cm long; cut the tentacles into small pieces about 1-2 cm long.
5. Put all the pieces in a bowl, add the chopped garlic, the chopped parsley, the squeezed lemon, the olive oil, and season to taste.
Mix well and serve your Neapolitan octopus salad chilled, accompanied with a fresh Pinot Grigio. You can store it in the fridge in an airtight container for maximum two days.
Silvana Lanzetta. Photo: Private
Silvana Lanzetta was born into a family of pasta makers from Naples and spent 17 years as a part-time apprentice in her grandmother’s pasta factory. She specializes in making pasta entirely by hand and runs regular classes and workshops in London.