Octopus Stewed in Red Wine (Polipo in Primitivo, Polpo Ubriaco)

Octopus is called polpo in most of Italy, but polipo in Puglia (even though technically the latter is incorrect, because polipo means polyp, an entirely different sea creature). In Puglia octopus is often stewed in a local red wine from the grape variety Primitivo, which is known as Zinfandel in California. It is often served as antipasto, but can also be served as secondo piatto. The octopus works very well with the red wine. The flavors blend excellently and this dish has great depth of flavor.

Since I was serving it as antipasto for our Christmas dinner, I wanted to serve it in a special way. As octopus is often served with a puree of fava beans or chickpeas in Italy, I thought I would do something similar. Since I had only cannellini beans on hand, I decided to use those (also inspired by Chef Mimi’s preference to substitute white beans to make hummus) for the puree. But for a typical antipasti spread, you could also just chop the octopus into pieces and serve it with the red wine sauce only.

As usual you should use a good enough red wine for the sauce, as an acidic wine will lead to an acidic sauce. Luckily most Primitivo/Zinfandel will be appropriate, as this grape variety is not known for its high acidity.


Serves 4 to 8 as antipasto or 2 to 3 as secondo piatto

1 octopus of about 1 kilo (2.2 lbs)

1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 stick celery, 1 garlic clove, chopped

fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 bottle of red wine, preferably Primitivo/Zinfandel, or as much red wine as needed to cover the octopus

salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve (optional)

cooked white beans, fava beans, or chickpeas (garbanzo beans) (I used 1 can for 4 servings)

salt, freshly ground black pepper, extra virgin olive oil

rosemary sprigs


Clean the octopus if needed. This means removing the beak as shown, and removing anything that is inside the head cavity. For a traditional presentation chop it into chunks. For my presentation, leave the legs whole.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan that has the right size to hold the octopus snugly in a single layer (or in two layers). Add carrot, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme.

Stir over medium heat until the vegetables are golden, making sure not to brown the garlic too much.

Add the octopus…

…and stir until the outside of the octopus has colored, about 1 minute.

Pour in red wine…

…until everything is barely covered…

…then bring it to a boil. Season with salt.

Reduce the heat such that the liquid keeps simmering gently. Cover the saucepan, and cook for about an hour…

…until the octopus is tender. You can test this by inserting a skewer into the octopus.

Now sieve out the solids from the wine.

Set the octopus aside. Bring the wine to a boil, and allow to reduce over medium heat…

…until the sauce is very thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To make a white bean (or chickpea or fava bean) puree, use a blender and blend them with a bit of the cooking liquid or water. (Not too much, because the puree should be thick.)

Gently heat the bean puree in a saucepan, stirring frequently, and bring to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil.

Gently reheat the octopus in the sauce, making sure to coat the octopus with the sauce on all sides.

Serve the octopus warm with the red wine sauce. If you like you can copy my presentation using a bean puree and sprigs of rosemary.

Wine pairing

This is one of those exceptions where seafood is good with red wine. Many red wines will work very well with this.



Cauliflower ‘pizza crust’ is now so common that you can buy it in the supermarket. Making it yourself is more tasty and more fun. A pizza crust made from cauliflower is often presented as a low-carb substitute for real pizza. I put the word ‘pizza’ between quotes in the title of this post, because I do not think it is a substitute for real pizza. It is very tasty though. Key to a crust with a good structure without using too many eggs (which would make it too eggy) is to remove some water from the cauliflower. Some recipes will have you cook the cauliflower and then squeeze out some of the water. I’ve chosen to roast the ground cauliflower in the oven before using it to make the crust. This will enhance the cauliflower flavor (as all of the cauliflower will be browned slightly, not just the cauliflower on the outside of the crust) and remove enough water to make it work.


11 thoughts on “Octopus Stewed in Red Wine (Polipo in Primitivo, Polpo Ubriaco)

  1. One of my very favourites dishes in the world – and my ultimate compliments for the beautiful presentation I definitely shall copy ! Love the idea of the bean puree but am a little surprised you did not use the sous-vide technique for the octopus: I would have imagined extra tenderness by that methodology . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The main benefit of octopus sous vide is more flavor, but in this case that flavor ends up in the sauce. By boiling long enough, it will become as tender. The octopus itself would also be slightly more juicy, but I thought it would be nice to show I can prepare something without sous vide, too 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh Stefan – methinks all of us are more than aware of what you ‘can do’ !! Good lesson tho’, especially for recalcitrant me !! I have been around the world ‘traps’ almost as much as you – am still looking at your presentation tho’ and honestly believe it must top my ‘memory list’! Happy New Year: have just sent out a snowy post but my IT problems seem to have robbed me of your email address . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy New year.
    Please make a book of all your fantastic recipes or even a Kindle book I will be the first one to buy it

    Get Outlook for Android


    Liked by 1 person

  3. This looks absolutely gorgeous. I bet your guests were blown away by this beautiful presentation. Would you just pick up and dip and bite pieces off to eat it? I just love the colour that the polpo becomes. Thank you for the lesson on polpo vs polipo, I’ve seen it written both ways in restaurants and wondered why.

    Liked by 1 person

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