The year was 1921, the place Ellis Island. My maternal grandmother, single, arrives into port from Napoli on the ship Patria to be with her sister...
It would be difficult to overstate how important seafood culture is to Sicily. On a brief trip there from Calabria in 2007, my family and I disembarked from the ferry across the Messina strait too late for lunch—place after place we saw, was closed. Despairing and hungry, we immediately swerved off the highway the moment we spotted a sign pointing toward the beach with the sign “Sunkisses.” It was a tiny place right on the sand that lived up to its sweet, if ungainly, English name. It turned out to be a stroke of luck that we noticed the sign: Sunkisses and its friendly proprietor offered us a cornucopia of incredibly fresh—caught nearby that day—seafood for our late lunch (we desperately needed a nap afterwards). The evocative image of Sicilian fishermen landing on the beach with a great catch is still alive and well today on this magical island.
One of Sicily's most underappreciated seafoods is octopus. This is my take on an octopus dish from Sotto Restaurant in Los Angeles. It highlights the octopus as a versatile palette for the flavors of Sicily.
The key to this recipe is finding good octopus. While the soft texture of a stewed octopus is great, grilling them just before serving, with breadcrumbs sprinkled on top, adds a really nice crunch.
So go find some octopus and imagine a lunch on the beach in Sicily!
Ingredients and Directions:
• 1 large or two small octopus - cleaned
• Salt and Pepper
• Olive Oil
• 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 2 or 3 olive oil packed anchovies (high quality if available)
• A small pinch of chili flakes
• 1 cup of white wine
• 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes (preferable San Marzano)
• 1/4 cup chopped parsley - 1/2 reserved for garnish
• 1 tablespoon capers, drained
• Rough chopped pitted Sicilian green olives
• One cup cooked ceci (chickpeas/garbanzo) beans
• Toasted panko breadcrumbs (toasted in a dry saute pan over medium heat)
• Crusty Italian bread
• Heavy enamel or cast iron pot
• Outdoor grill or grill pan
• Long tongs for grilling
1. Fill the heavy cast iron pot with salted water and place over high heat. When boiling, add the cleaned octopus and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the octopus to a strainer, discard the water, and wipe the cast-iron pot dry. Cut the octopus into large pieces (I like to cut them so each piece has 2-3 tentacles, as shown in the photo, for easier grilling).
2. Place the cast-iron pot over medium-low heat and add a splash of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the anchovies and chili flakes and, using a wooden spoon, break up the anchovies in the olive oil until dissolved.
3. Add the garlic, cut up octopus and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Increase heat to high and add the white wine. Boil stirring occasionally for 4 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook partially covered for 30 minutes. Add half the parsley, all the capers and chopped olives. Stir and continue to cook for an additional 1/2 hour.
5. Carefully remove the octopus from the stew to a plate. Add the drained cooked ceci beans to the stew and cook for another 15 minutes over low heat, letting the chickpeas absorb the flavor of the stew. The stew should be nice and thick at this point. If not, continue to cook until thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Heat the outdoor grill or grill pan. Oil the grill by dipping a paper towel in olive oil and, using long tongs, rubbing on the grilling grate. Grill the long octopus tentacles for 1-2 minutes and flip and grill for another 1-2 minutes. You want a nice char on the tentacles.
7. Serve some of the stew and chickpea mixture in a bowl. Top with a few grilled tentacles. Finish off with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and toasted breadcrumbs. Serve.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Ital ian. Together, from opposite coasts, they coauthor the blog OurItalianTable.com.