Octopus in the Sardinian way

Octopus in the Sardinian Way

There we are, the 100th post. Whistler might have named this ‘Harmony in pink and green’ for its stunning colours. The delicate pink of the octopus is contrasted by the vivid green of the freshly podded peas & once you lift the lid with a flourish (Ta-daa!), everyone will be engulfed in the most aromatic smells. Naturally, the taste matches its visual splendour.

I only had Octopus alla catalana before: Octopus cooked in its own juices with cubed potatoes which (inevitably) gets quite salty. Last summer my friend Anke (who took all the photos) came to visit and I had to grab the opportunity by the tentacles to eat seafood when I can (because some people here, I am not naming any names, are a bit suspicious of tentacles & suckers…) and to try a different approach. Valentine Warner’s fantastic recipe is close to perfection, the added vegetables prevent excessive saltiness and turn it into a very fine dish to celebrate the arrival spring. We thought though, that it needed a lot more fresh peas and spring onions than he started out with – and now, no hard feelings, it is one of the best ways to treat an octopus. Just add a glass of Tavel (rosé) for a summer supper. Now the first pea pods have been sighted, this might be on the weekend menu soon, who’s coming? Ähem, I saw fresh peas this week, thinking about it now: that does seem a bit early, doesn’t it? Anyway, maybe a freak occurrence or some hotter climes candidates and we’ll have to wait a few weeks longer for the early varieties, so keep the octopus in mind until then.

Octopus & garlic

Notes on how to prep an octopus: Do not be disheartened by the task of dismembering the octopus nor of the thought of tentacles on your plate. Re the operation: here is a handy site, which will guide you through the process step-by-step. I found it extremely helpful when faced with my first octopus and even if you do not speak German, the pictures and video are both illustrative & self-explanatory.

There are two ways to soften an octopus: get out your flute and start playing… Just kidding. Either tenderise the dead body with a heavy object (with the flat side of a mallet or a heavy pan) or smash against the stone steps leading to your Italian summer villa (no, me neither). You even could go the easy route and freeze it for 1-2 days which as the same effect and is less messy. Ideally, you could prepare it before you do that but I always get home from the fishmonger and bury it into the freezer to be dealt with later. I do not know why all my descriptions & puns sound like an old CSI script, I am a little worried. Where are my sunglasses? Sharpen your knifes!

Octopus with peas and spring onions – the Sardinian way

Serves 6-8, adapted from Valentine Warner’s What to eat now. More please (now reissued as What to eat now. Spring & Summer), also here, with tiny upgrades & adjustments in the herb & vegetable department (doubled onions and added even more peas to have enough of these delicious tasting veg to serve everyone as a side)

1 octopus, ca. 2kg or 4 ½ lbs (freeze for 1-2 days to soften; or prepare and freeze then)
1 head of garlic
50ml (¼ cup) olive oil
25 large spring onions, white bulbs
juice of 1 lemon
2 fresh bay leaves, tear or crumple to release oils
3-4 sprigs of thyme
8 black peppercorns
500-700g or 1-1½ lbs fresh peas (shelled weight, depending on how many people are there; Warner uses 300g peas, unpodded weight)
pepper (& salt)
good knob of cold butter (or olive oil)
fennel fronds or chives
Prepare the octopus: separate the head from the body (underneath the eyes), discard head & innards, turn the armed body over with the beautiful pattern facing you, remove the hard beak by pressing it through the centre point of the arms. Freeze at this point or prepare your defrosted octopus like this.

Cut the tentacles & body into bite-sized chunks and halve the head of garlic with a horizontal cut, another beautiful pattern. Heat the olive oil a braising pan over high heat, when the oil is smoking hot, fry the garlic halves on their cut sides, throw in the onions and brown. Add the octopus, stir and fry on high for 30 seconds, reduce the heat to low, add lemon juice, herbs & pepper and cover the pan with its lid. Stew the octopus on very low heat for 1¾ – 2 hours. Shell the peas and reserve. Check the octopus after 1¾ hours for tenderness (pierce like potatoes with a knife). Take of the lid, add the shelled peas and cook them uncovered for 8 minutes in the wonderful aromatic juices released by the octopus, season with black pepper and check if any salt is needed. Stir in the butter for a delicious sauce and serve immediately sprinkled with the fennel fronds or chives for optical reasons. Serve with a rustic Italian country loaf.


Oktopus mit frischen Erbsen & Frühlingszwiebeln – Pulpo auf sardinische Art

Für 6 Personen, adaptiert von Valentine Warner’s What to eat now. More please. (auf deutsch: Frisch & Einfach kochen): ich habe die Menge der Zwiebeln verdoppelt und deutlich mehr Erbsen hinzugefügt, die sind so gekocht sehr lecker und hat man das Gemüse gleich schon dabei!

1 Oktopus, ca. 2kg (Krake oder auch als Pulpo verkauft; für 1-2 Tage einfrieren, damit er weich wird oder erst vorbereiten und dann einfrieren)
1 Knoblauchknolle
50ml Olivenöl
25 große Frühlingszwiebeln, nur die weißen Zwiebeln
Saft von 1 Zitrone
2 frische Lorbeerblätter, an einigen Stellen einreißen oder zerknüllen um die aromatischen Öle austreten zu lassen
3-4 Zweige Thymian
8 schwarze Pfefferkörner
500-700g frische Erbsen (gepalt, je nach Anzahl der Personen, Warner: 300g frische Erbsenschoten)
Pfeffer (& Salz)
ein nicht zu kleines Stückchen kalte Butter (oder Oliveöl)
dunkles Fenchelgrün oder Schnittlauch

Operation Oktopus: Den Kopf unterhalb der Augen vom Körper trennen und zusammen mit den Innereien entsorgen. Den sternförmigen Körper mit der schönen Unterseite nach oben drehen und ausbreiten, dabei die harten Kauwerkzeuge im Zentrum von unten nach außen drücken und so entfernen (hier ist der Prozess sehr genau beschrieben, Fotos illustrieren jeden Schritt, obendrein gibt es noch ein hilfreiches Video). Entweder an diesem Punkt für ein bis zwei Tage einfrieren oder den aufgetauten Oktopus wie beschrieben vorbereiten.

Die Tentakel und den Mittelteil in mundgerechte, aber nicht zu kleine Stücke zerteilen und die Knoblauchknolle horizontal aufschneiden. In einer schweren Schmorpfanne (mit Deckel) bei großer Flamme das Olivenöl stark erhitzen und den Knoblauch mit der Schnittfläche nach unten kurz anbraten, gleichfalls die Frühlingszwiebeln bräunen. Die Oktopusstücke unter Rühren ½ Minute anbraten, dann die Hitze auf die kleinste Flamme reduzieren und Zitronensaft, Kräuter & Pfefferkörner hinzugeben. Den Deckel auflegen und den Kraken für 1¾ – 2 Stunden bei sehr niedriger Hitze schmoren. In der Zwischenzeit die Erbsen palen und beiseite stellen. Nach 1¾ Stunden den Oktopus auf Zartheit prüfen (mit einem kleinen Messer pieksen), die Erbsen hineinschütten und ohne Deckel 8 Minuten in der aromatischen Flüssigkeit kochen lassen. Mit schwarzem Pfeffer würzen und eventuell salzen, dann die leckere Sauce mit der kalten Butter abrunden und mit dem dunklen Fenchelgrün oder Schnittlauch bestreuen und sofort servieren. Lecker mit frischem italienischem Bauernbrot und einem kalten Glas Tavel (Rosé).

Braised tuna – Tonno alla marinara


Braised tuna - Tonno alla marinara

So, here am I trying to cope with the loss of the flickr ‘sharing-to-wordpress’-button. I am so not a super tech-savvy person (not at all), I fiddle around and mangle the stuff until my posts sort of look right & pretty and now I am a little lost & upset. I only found out a few days ago and thought, you know, they just might leave it there but not do any maintenance and forget about it. No, apparently not: the feature is annihilated, chopped, no mercy for the amateur-cook-blog-fiddlers, the improvisers amongst us. Tish-tosh, enough of the moaning: I wanted to change the appearance a little anyway, so I am taking the gauntlet & work (read: fiddle or hack) on that.

Here is another challenge: braising. I had to brush up on my cooking terminology and basically everything that is either previously browned or not (good, if you do not want to kill the fish twice) and than slowly cooked or simmered (often braising and simmering are used synonymously) in liquid. Braising works for wonders for fresh tuna which stays succulent and moist instead of being rendered into a bone-dry brick when pan-fried or grilled. At least that is my experience. I prefer my fish briefly seared on the outside and raw or just a little translucent on the inside, my husband doesn’t. To find a middle way, turned my slice – more often than not – into the said sad & saw-dusty brick which apparently some people (yes, you, darling) prefer. Braising tuna this way pleases the both of us, is heavenly easy to prepare and absolutely foolproof: you’ll end up with succulent fish, a fragrant liquor that is a joy to mop up with lots of torn bread and the feeling of having just eaten quite a healthy meal.

Update (after dinner): we have just had the tuna again and I have to say, ultimately (& optically) I prefer the oven method since it concentrates the flavours much more and adds a nicer colour to the fish. The braising pan method returns a lovely concentrated sauce though the fish stays pale (see here). In the end, it depends on your visual preferences and if you want to heat up the oven.

German version below, deutsches Rezept unten


Braised tuna – Tonno alla marinara
serves 4, adapted & reworked from Reinhardt Hess & Sabine Sälzer: Die echte italienische Küche: Ingredients, weights, cooking method changed

4 slices of tuna (2cm or a little under 1 inch thick, 100-150g or 3.5-5oz per person)
1-2 garlic cloves, pressed or grated (use less if you fear the smell)
salt & pepper
600g (21oz) small cocktail or grape tomatoes (in deepest winter: 2 small tins of cocktail tomatoes)
60g (2oz) pitted black or green olives
1 small red onion
2 tablespoons small capers (in brine)
fresh basil, chopped (about a handful) + more to garnish
fresh mint, chopped (1 tablespoon) + more to garnish
olive oil
salt & pepper
¼ l (1 cup) white wine

Preheat the oven to 175°C / 350°F.
Dry the tuna slices by patting them with a paper towel, rub with garlic puree and season with salt & pepper. Halve or quarter the tomatoes (I think there is no need to skin them), chop the olives and finely dice the onion. Toss in a bowl together with the capers & the chopped herbs. Prepare an ovenproof dish or a braising pan with a little olive oil (1 tablespoon) add the tuna slices, top with the tomato-olive-caper-herb mixture, season with a little salt & a lot of black pepper and pour over the white wine. Let the fish braise gently for about 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of your slices. Sprinkle the fish with more fresh basil & mint, serve with the liquor and a crusty Italian country loaf.

Alternative cooking method: Prepare the tuna as above in a braising pan (I used a Le Creuset cast iron braiser), cover with a lid and braise for about 20-25 minutes over medium heat depending on the thickness of your slices. Garnish with more chopped herbs & serve with basmati rice or rustic Italian bread.


Thunfisch – tonno alla marinara
für 4 Personen, adaptiert von Reinhard Hess & Sabine Sälzer: Die echte italienische Küche. Verhältnisse, Mengen, Zutaten, Zubereitung geändert

4 Scheiben frischer Thunfisch (ca. 2-3cm dick, ca. 100-150g pro Scheibe)
1-2 Knoblauchzehen, gepresst oder gerieben (weniger, wenn man Angst vor dem Geruch hat)
Salz & Pfeffer
600g kleine Strauchtomaten (oder im tiefsten Winter 2 kleine Dosen Cocktailtomaten)
60g schwarze oder grüne Oliven ohne Stein
1 kleine rote Zwiebel
2 EL Kapern (in Lake)
frisches Basilikum, gehackt (ca. eine Handvoll) + mehr zum Garnieren
frische Minze, gehackt (ca. 1 EL) + mehr zum Garnieren
Salz & Pfeffer
¼ l Weißwein

Den Backofen auf 175°C vorheizen. Thunfisch mit einem Küchentuch trocken tupfen, mit Knoblauchpüree einreiben und mit Salz & Pfeffer würzen. Die Tomaten je nach Größe halbieren oder vierteln (ich finde das Häuten immer ein wenig zu viel Aufwand), Oliven klein hacken und die Zwiebel fein würfeln. Zusammen mit den Kapern & den gehackten Kräutern vermischen und beiseite stellen. 1-2 EL Olivenöl in eine ofenfeste Form oder eine flache Pfanne gießen, die Thunfischscheiben hineingeben und mit der Tomaten-Oliven-Kapern-Zwiebel-Kräutermischung bedecken. Wein angießen und nochmals salzen & kräftig pfeffern. Für ca. 20-30 Minuten backen, anschließend mit mehr frischem Basilikum & Minze bestreut servieren, dazu frisches rustikales italienisches Landbrot mit einer ordentlichen Kruste reichen.

Alternative Methode: Den Thunfisch wie oben beschrieben in einer niedrigen gußeisernen Pfanne mit Deckel vorbereiten und auf mittlerer Hitze für ca. 20-25 Minuten garen. Der Fisch bleibt saftig, nimmt aber keine Farbe an, die Sauce wird konzentriert. Den Fisch mit mehr frischen Kräutern bestreuen und mit rustikalem italienischem Brot oder Basmatireis servieren.


Bärlauchsuppe – wild garlic soup

Bärlauchsuppe (deutsches Rezept s. u.) – Wild garlic soup

Since a few days we are spoilt by sunshine & blue skies, spring seems to have arrived. In my book spring starts officially when bunches of Bärlauch with its chive & garlic scented dark green leaves are turning up at the markets. Wild garlic, ramsons, Allium ursinum or in German: Bärlauch bears its name for the brown bear’s penchant for the tasty bulbs of this vegetable & herb plant. I am fond of such telling names (like last weeks Pissenlit or the lovely Meadowsweet), they provide us with a story that connects us to a time when foraging was practiced en famille, the properties and effects (and edibility) of any plant, herb & mushroom were common knowledge.

Anyway, not to impress here as the master forager (which I am not, quite the opposite): stocks of wild garlic are depleted here and I am always a little afraid of picking the wrong plant by accident, although I think wild garlic and the beautiful but poisonous (!) Lily-of-the-Valley can be distinguished easily. Plus, I would feel deprived of my weekly visit to the market, having a quick chat and see what’s fresh, enticing and inspiring.

Friday the first wild garlic had turned up, just in time for the weekend: This is a very light, fresh and invigorating starter to a dinner. It hardly is a real soup, more akin to a tisane (guess who’s watching Hercule Poirot at the moment) or infusion, just a little something to set the tone and entice the taste buds. Best served in small amounts either in a little bowl or cup.

Update: My wild garlic soup is in the Guardian, yipee.
Is a bunch a bunch? – sizes: There has arisen a question about weight or size of a or this bunch of wild garlic. Bunch sizes vary according to country, shop or stall or season or if you harvest yourself. This recipe is totally flexible and how much you use depends on your taste as well: use more for a vivid green colour & super intense wild garlic taste, less if you prefer a less in your face spring experience. The bunches I have bought this year fitted comfortably in my hand, holding the bunch like a bouquet. I weighed it, too: 173g (6.1oz) with stalks, rubber band & the occasional flower; 126g (4.4oz) just the leaves.


Wild garlic soup
for 4 or 6 diners

1 (large) bunch of wild garlic (see comment above about size guide)
1 shallot, minced
a knob of butter
500ml or a pint of chicken or vegetable stock (add more or less to taste)
salt & white pepper
a dollop of cream (single, double, whipping, crème fraîche, crème double, anything)

Wash and chop the wild garlic leaves. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and let the shallot turn slowly translucent. Add the chopped leaves and the stock, cook for a few minutes, then blend to a vivid green liquid. Season with salt & white pepper and add a dollop of cream.

für 4 bis 6 Personen

1 (großes) Bund Bärlauch (Kommentar oben in Englisch zur Bundgröße, paßt wie ein Blumenstrauß in die Hand)
1 Schalotte, fein gehackt
1 Stückchen Butter
500ml Hühner- oder Gemüsebrühe (mehr oder weniger nach Geschmack)
Salz & weißer Pfeffer
ein Schuß Sahne (oder Crème fraîche, crème double etc.)

Die Bärlauchblätter waschen und hacken. In einem kleinen Topf die Butter bei mittlere Hitze schmelzen und die Schalottenwürfel glasig werden lassen. Den zerkleinerten Bärlauch sowie die Brühe hinzugeben und für ein paar Minuten köcheln lassen, dann pürieren. Das intensiv grüne Süppchen mit Salz & weißem Pfeffer abschmecken und mit einem Schuß Sahne verfeinern. In kleinen Tassen servieren.