Fresh tomatoes, white beans soaked overnight and cooked totally tender, fresh herbs like parsley and thyme, a touch of cayenne pepper and a hint of lemon zest.

That is a perfect, all-season basis for octopus.

Once on holiday in southern Turkey I watched a fisherman slam his catch of the day octopus against the rocks next to the fishing harbor. I knew why he was doing that. I read about it: it is to tenderize the fibers.

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The octopus I can find usually comes frozen, which is a good thing: freezing helps tenderize it. But even when I buy fresh octopus: I feel it up its arms and when those feel flexible and soft to me, I just proceed. Never had an issue with tough octopus (so far…). But I’ve never grilled it “unprepared” (blanched and then simmered for about an hour).

Octopus shrinks considerably when cooked and blanching (dipping in boiling and subsequently in ice water) helps.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 whole octopus (tenderized and/or frozen)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (+ extra for brushing)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • a pinch (or to taste) cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 4 cups cooked white cannellini beans
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley (or: try fresh tarragon!)
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Bring a large pot with water to a boil. Have an ice bath ready next to it. Blanch the octopus in the hot water 1 minute and transfer to ice bath to cool down. Repeat three times.

Now, bring the water back to a boil a final time, add the blanched octopus and simmer on low for about an hour. Take out, drain and keep until ready to use.

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and add the onions. Lower heat to medium-low and stir onions until soft. Add the garlic and thyme. Stir 1-2 minutes more and add tomatoes. Simmer over low heat for a total of 30 minutes (adding octopus after 5 minutes or so).

In the meantime, cut off the tentacles and keep aside. Chop up the head and body into 1/2-inch cubes. Add to the tomato sauce to simmer along. For the last 10 minutes, add the cooked and drained beans, the cayenne pepper and lemon zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Brush the octopus arms with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. In a very hot grill pan (or on the bbq) sizzle quickly to crisp up. Serve on top of the beans.

Serve this stew hot with crusty (sourdough) bread and a tossed mesclun salad.