In my quest of making things that are refreshing in this heat and inspired by the many jokes about Paul the Octopus after Germany was kicked out of the World Cup last week I came across another recipe from my mother in law: a Mediterranean octopus salad that is usually served warm but that can also be served chilled. It is delicious, so don't let the idea of octopus put you off. If cooked well, it is extremely tender and it is very subtle in taste.
Tender is the key word here and the idea of it turning out to be chewy and tough is what scares many off. Tales of fishermen and Sicilian housewives beating octopus repeatedly on rocks before cooking it to soften its flesh are probably true but rest assured it is not the only way. I have heard all the urban myths about boiling it with a cork or dipping it in a pot full of water three times before actually letting it cook. I, however, was given a simple suggestion by my friend Barbara many years ago and I have never had the misfortune of serving a rubbery sea monster with tentacles. Bring a pot full of water with a small handful of salt to a boil and put in your octopus. Let it cook for a little, until it changes colour and you can pretty much tell it is cooked through. Boiling it for a long time only makes it tougher. Once it is ready, turn off your stove and let it cool off in its own cooking water. That, my friends, is the secret.
You can pretty much buy octopus anywhere in Italy but it may not be as easy where you live. I suggest you look for frozen octopus, the result is identical and you may have more of a chance finding some.
Ingredients (for 3 people as a main course)
1 medium sized octopus
approx. 300gr cherry tomatoes
2/3 large potatoes
mint (the more the better)
When the octopus is cooked and cooling in its water (which could take up to a few hours), boil the potatoes in salted water and halve or quarter your cherry tomatoes. When the potatoes are cooked cut them into small cubes. Chop the mint. Take the octopus out of the pot when it is luke warm. I usually rinse off the more gelatinous part of the skin under running water. Some may prefer to take off the suckers too, but if you do not mind the idea, they actually add texture. Cut the tentacles and the central part of the octopus into bite-size pieces and mix all the ingredients together. Add good quality extra virgin olive oil, salt to taste and pepper. Serve when potatoes and octopus are still warm or chilled if you prefer.
This can also make a delicious pasta sauce.