I remember the first time I tried potato & octopus salad. It was my first Christmas in Italy, 2008. I couldn’t make it home for the holidays after just having moved three months earlier, and earning a less than desirable paycheck. A friend from Canada hopped on a plane and came to spend Christmas with me up on Lake Maggiore, in north Italy, where I was living.
We decided to take a train to Naples, south of Rome. Once we boarded, we were offered wine and a newspaper by an elegantly dressed gentleman. It was wonderful! What service! “Are all the trains in Italy so luxurious?,” we had thought. Actually, no. They aren’t, as we quickly learned. Not knowing the language as of yet and being novices at the whole traveling by train in foreign countries thing, we had accidentally hopped on the 1st class car, on the super fast train, a mistake that would cost us dearly $$$$$!
Naples, or Napoli, is a seaside city, full of life, character and adventure. I’m sure that visiting this colorful city in the summer would have been a breathtaking experience, however it was the first days of January, grey, chilly and wet. My friend, expecting to be a lady about the town that day, and not a tourist, wore heels. Big mistake. Her tired feet were cold, wet and blistered. The handle on her one piece of luggage had broken whilst walking along, the cherry on the cake, rapidly halting this poorly planned out and unfortunate, situation. However, we found our silver lining when we found this picturesque little restaurant perched upon the little cliff along the sea’s edge.
We were the only ones in the restaurant. Clearly, Italians had other ideas on cold, wet days in January other than going to eat at the seaside.
It was one of the best meals I had ever had.
A menu of the best the sea had to offer, I savored every bite of every dish, letting it linger, in hopes of having this glorious meal last as long as possible. Perhaps it was to escape the world outside those doors which was a cruel one that day, but the warmth and hospitality of this little restaurant in Napoli overshadowed everything that had previous transpired, and what remained was the memory of this singular moment, sitting with my friend, alone in that restaurant, eating one of the most delicious meals as we looked out upon the sea.
And the dish that stood out to me above the others was Potato & Octopus Salad.
Potato & Octopus Salad
1 celery rib
1 white onion
Freshly ground pepper
1 kg octopus
600 g of yellow potatoes
4 sprigs of parsley
1 clove of garlic
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Half a lemon
* Because I made this recipe for only my husband and I, the ingredients were halved for a smaller portion
1. Wash the celery, remove the damaged parts, then slice.
2. Wash the carrot, remove the ends, then slice.
3. Remove outer layer of onion, then slice.
4. Put the water and the vegetables in a large pot. Bring it to a boil.
5. Meanwhile, clean the octopus thoroughly under running water. When the water boils, add the octopus. Cover, wait for it to boil again, then lower the flame to a minimum. Cook for 40 minutes in a covered pot.
6. While cooking octopus, prepare the potatoes by peeling them and adding them to salted water for about 35 minutes, or steam for about 40 minutes.
7. After the time indicated for the octopus, lift it with a kitchen tongs and insert the teeth of a fork at the base of the tentacles. It’ll enter softly if it is well cooked. If the meat of the octopus is resistant, continue cooking for another ten minutes.
8. When cooked, turn off the heat and leave the octopus in its cooking water for 10 minutes, then drain it and place it on a cutting board. If you need to remove the skin, just rub it with a clean cloth, it will come off very easily. But do not remove the skin between the tentacles. Remove the skin from the head because it is usually a bit tough.
9. When they are cooked, remove the potatoes, then peel and cut into large pieces like those of octopus.
10. Wash the parsley, remove stems and chop on a cutting board together with the peeled garlic.
11. In a small bowl, pour olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
12. Put the octopus and the potatoes in a bowl and season with the oil mixture. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
13. Leave it to rest for at least twenty minutes to make it flavor well.