I know I’ve written about Octopus a lot recently. But you know when you get in a groove, and you just keep going? I’ve been in a kind of octopus groove lately. Part of this has to do with the fact that I’m now able to get great octopus at the farmer’s market. Not only has it not been frozen (which is difficult to find) but it’s local, fresh and doesn’t cost as much as at my neighborhood fish shop.
The other reason is that it’s easy. Easy to cook and easy to eat. It’s fish, but without the bones. Or shells. Or anything. Really, you just put it in a pot, cook it up, and it’s ready to go.
Or, you can turn it into something even more delicious. And what you pair the octopus with changes it completely. One of my favorite things to do with octopus is to make it into a salad. If you don’t have much octopus to start with, you can stretch it out with potatoes. If, on the other hand you want something lighter, forget the potatoes and make it with just celery.
Actually, make it with mostly celery. Kind of like a celery salad with octopus.
I came late to my love of celery. I’m not sure why, but as a child it was one of the few vegetables I would actually refuse to eat. I think it’s because the only celery I had been exposed to were sad little celery sticks that had been cut hours earlier, left out, and then placed out on my mother’s hors d’oeuvre platter, tired, dry and stringy. And no amount of Liptons onion soup mix dip was gonna help.
But once I moved to Italy and started seeing that celery could be used on it’s own, as a salad, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and any thing else you wanted to put it, I began to understand its charm. I also realized that there is good celery and bad celery. Those dull green bunches, cut lose from their leafy tops and sealed tight in plastic wrap that you see in the supermarket? Best not to even mention them. Bitter and stringy, they really aren’t what you want to be eating raw.
But the pale green, foot long stalks with their bunches of leaves still attached? That’s what I’m talking about. And that is what I always stuff into my shopping bag at the market, making sure the leafy tops make it home unbruised.
For this salad I simply cooked my octopi (yes, I had more than one. And yes, I’ve just been waiting for a chance to use the plural of octopus). Once cool, I chopped them up and added them to the heart of a bunch of celery that I had sliced very thinly. I only used the inner 6 or 7 stalks, that are pale and much sweeter than the outer ribs. I also ripped off the smallest and tenderest of the celery leaves, mixing them in as well.
To dress the salad I didn’t need much. Lemon juice for sure, and extra virgin olive oil. But I also decided to use some of the oil I had gotten from Marina Colonna. I’ve been using and loving her citrus oils, but had avoided opening the bottle labeled Tulsi. Since it was basil oil, I was a bit wary that it would taste like all the other infused basil oils I’ve ever had. Bad, and nothing at all like basil.
I was thrilled to discover that this oil is completely different . I shouldn’t have been scared of it. Most basil oils are made by letting the olive oil sit with dried basil leaves. The result is usually musty and old tasting.
Marina instead, uses a different process where the fresh basil leaves are actually pressed along with the olives, when the oil is made, The resulting oil – full of essential basil oil and not ‘flavored’ with old dried leaves – is as intensely fresh and basil tasting as you can imagine. Almost shockingly so. And it went perfectly with the deep fishy taste of the octopi. (hah! managed to use it again!)
- ½ kilo / 1 pound octopus, cooked (see here how to cook it)
- 6 - 7 stalks tender celery heart, with leaves still attached.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons Tulsi basil olive oil
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- grated zest from one untreated lemon
- salt, pepper
- Chop the room temperature octopus into bite sized pieces.
- Slice the celery on the diagonal, thinly
- Tear the celery leaves into bit size pieces
- Place the octopus, celery and leaves in a bowl.
- Add olive oil, basil oil, lemon juice and zest.
- Toss and season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Let sit for an hour so that the flavors can blend.
The salad can be made the day before. If you store it in the fridge, make sure you take it out at least an hour before hand to come to room temperature.
Marina Colonna’s oils are widely available. Check her website for the nearest retailer near you.
The oil I used in this recipe was given to me by Marina Colonna.