Moscardini are baby octopus, and it is not often that I can get them fresh in Amsterdam. And so when I saw them, I grabbed them at the market (this was before we left to Italy, but I am typing this at breakfast on an Italian square in view of a duomo). To celebrate their freshness and the last days of the summer, I decided to dress some conchiglioni pasta with them in a ragù with fresh tomatoes. This pasta shape is perfect for a ‘chunky’ sauce like this, because the morsels of octopus get caught inside the shells.
225 grams (.5 lb) baby octopus (frozen would also work)
225 grams (.5 lb) plum tomatoes (our tomatoes are quite watery, so I used 450 grams (1 lb))
1/2 stick of celery, small dice
1/2 carrot, small dice
1/4 onion, small dice
1 garlic clove, minced
60 ml (1/4 cup) dry white wine
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley
Bring a pot of water to a boil. You will use it later for the pasta, but first to skin the tomatoes. When the water boils, cut a cross in the bottom of each tomato, and scald the tomatoes in the hot water…
…until the skin splits, 10 to 30 seconds. Lift the tomatoes out of the water as soon as that happens, as you don’t want to cook them more than necessary at this point.
Plunge them in cold water to cool. Turn off the heat of the pot, and cover it to keep warm.
Cut the tomatoes in half cross-wise, and remove the seeds with your fingers.
Cut out the green part where the tomato used to be attached to the plant, and discard. Chop the tomato flesh.
Clean the baby octopus by removing and discarding the eyes and the insides of the head…
…and the sharp beak. Now chop the octopus into pieces (leave each tentacle whole).
To make the ragù, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the onion, carrot, and celery, and season with salt.
Stir over medium heat until the vegetables start to color, 5 to 10 minutes, then add the garlic and stir for another minute. Make sure that the garlic does not brown, as that would make it too strong.
Pat the chopped octopus dry with paper towels…
…and add it to the pan.
Stir the octopus for a minute, then add the white wine.
Bring to a boil…
…then add the tomatoes and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Stir and lower the heat. Allow to cook uncovered for about an hour.
Bring the pot of water that you used to skin the tomatoes back to a boil when the octopus has been simmering for about 45 minutes. Add salt and the pasta, and cook the pasta al dente according to package instructions.
Meanwhile, the tomatoes should have reduced.
If the sauce becomes too dry, add a bit of pasta cooking water, and stir to incorporate. Just before the pasta is ready, taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Drain the pasta, and add it to the sauce, together with most of the parsley.
Stir well, making sure that most of the sauce gets ‘caught’ in the pasta shells.
Serve at once on preheated plates, garnished with the remaining parsley (and a drizzle of very good extra virgin olive oil, if you like).
This is excellent with almost any dry Italian white, like Verdicchio, Fiano, Greco, Gavi, Vermentino…
The best dishes are those that use only a few ingredients. In this case: beets, mackerel, and balsamic vinegar (plus salt, pepper, and olive oil). It is a versatile dish: you could serve it lukewarm or at room temperature as a salad for lunch, or in a smaller portion as an appetizer, or as a secondo piatto after a nice plate of pasta (primo piatto). It also uses all of the beets: not only the beets themselves, but also the leaves and stems. They each contribute a different flavor and texture to the dish. And all three work very well with the mackerel, cooked sous-vide to give it a wonderful creamy texture. The balsamic ties it all together.