Polpo in Umido alla Siciliana (Sicilian Stewed Octopus)

Polpo in umido

As we wrap up our food-and-wine tour of Sicily, I thought I’d finish with one of Sicily’s most under-appreciated seafoods, the octopus. This is my take on an octopus dish at Sotto Restaurant in Los Angeles, and it shows that the octopus is a versatile palette for the flavors of Sicily.

The key to this recipe is finding good octopus. And 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.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not mention how important seafood culture is to Sicily. When Michele, my Aunt Mary, Mark and I vacationed in Calabria in 2007, we took an overnight trip to meet up with my relatives who were traveling to the Catania Airport in Sicily. On the way, we stopped at a tiny little beach resort called “Sunkisses”. We ate all varieties of seafood for lunch, and we all desperately needed a nap afterwards. Everything we ate was fresh-caught nearby that day. The images of the Sicilian fisherman returning home with a great catch is still alive and well today on this magical island.

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 breadcrumbs (toasted in a dry saute pan over medium heat)
  • Crusty Italian bread

Special equipment:

  • Medium heavy 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.


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