There's something to be said about a dish that changes your outlook about a specific ingredient, most notably when that change is a positive one, and Octopus and Celery antipasto did just that. Celery has never been a vegetable that I've had an affinity for—not crunched on raw or slathered with peanut butter. I've always found it stringy, fibrous, and bitter in a way that was unappealing. But the first few bites of this dish—the sweet celery hearts mixed with tender octopus, lightly dressed with olive oil and vinegar—opened my eyes to celery's potential. Who would have thought that it would take a cephalopod to help me learn to love celery?
In this recipe adapted from Molto Gusto by Mario Batali and Mark Ladner octopus is slowly simmered with aromatic vegetables and herbs until tender. Batali swears by adding a wine cork to the cooking liquid to ensure tenderness, though others might not agree. After about an hour the octopus is removed from the liquid, left to cool, cleaned and chopped into bite-sized pieces. It's then mixed with the inner most ribs of celery along with it's tender leaves. Since the octopus has taken on some of the flavors from the cooking liquid the dressing is minimal and the sweet pieces of celery heart and briny octopus really come through.
Win Molto Gusto
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Molto Gusto to give away this week.
- One 3-pound octopus (frozen is fine), sac, beak, and eyes removed (have the fishmonger do this)
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- 2 small red onions, thinly sliced
- 2 carrots, thinly sliced
- 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
- 1 sprig each fresh Italian parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
- 1 celery heart with tender leaves, base cut off, fibrous strings removed with a vegetable peeler, and thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Maldon or other flaky sea salt
Combine the octopus, wine, onions, carrots, sliced celery ribs, herbs, and a wine cork, if you have one (the cork helps tenderize the octopus), in a large pot, add enough water to cover the octopus, and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer gently until the thickest part of the octopus is tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the broth.
Drain the octopus (discard the vegetables and cork). Cut off the tentacles and strip the skin and suckers from the tentacles (the skin will come off easily once the octo pus is cooked). Cut the head and tentacles into 1-inch pieces.
Combine the octopus, sliced celery heart, vinegar, and oil in a large bowl, mixing well. Season well with salt and serve, or let stand for 1 hour to bring out the flavors. (The octopus can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before serving.)