Greek recipe for octopus in a tomato sauce and small shaped pasta, baked in the oven.
Χταπόδι με κοφτό μακαρονάκι.. There are certain scenes which are immediately recognizable as being part of the landscape and story of Greece. The white washed walls and bright blue roofs of homes in Santorini is one. The expansive aqua-blue sea and pink sand of Elafonisi is another. Donkeys carrying satchels of whatever the mountainous village has to offer. The Acropolis at night. The sunset in Meteora . The dozens of octopus hanging and drying in the sun as if they were freshly laundered button-downs, while the fishermen look on and nearby psarotaverna (fish tavern) patrons rest assured that the menu is certainly fresh.
This is not quite a scene for the faint-hearted, and if you don’t know the reason for it, you may find it odd that fresh octopus, straight from the waters, would be treated this way. We still remember being young girls in Greece and wondering at the purpose of this. As young women, in Greece with our non-Greek husbands, we witnessed them being a little unsettled at this sight. This unsettledness lasted about as long as it took for the grilled octopus to make an appearance at our taverna table.
Why dry octopus in the sun?
Good question! When octopus are caught, and after they are killed, they are beaten against a rock dozens of time; this helps to tenderize the meat. The octopus are hung out to dry once they are tenderized. This eliminates much of the water which makes up much of their weight and volume.
How can you cook and serve octopus?
There are many ways to enjoy octopus and often at the lovely psarotavernas of Greece you will have octopus grilled on the open coals, served with plenty of lemon juice and ouzo. Add some fried calamari, some small fried fish and you we dare you to imagine a better or tastier scene.
You can make the octopus as a toursi by marinating it in vinegar, oil and spices after it is baked. Eaten cold, octopus this way is amazing as part of a salad or a cold antipasto platter.
A more rustic way to cook octopus is this recipe for octopus and pasta. This is a very popular dish in Greece, and was the most common way that our parents prepared octopus at home. Octopus and pasta is a traditional lenten dish. During periods when meat and dairy are not allowed but shellfish and other seafood like octopus are, octopus and pasta is an easy and delicious way to keep the fast.
There are many version of this recipe. Some cooks boil the pasta on the stovetop, however, our parents have always baked octopus and pasta in the oven and we prefer it this way. Once you try it we think that you will enjoy it as much as we do.
Can you use any pasta shape for this Greek octopus and pasta recipe?
You can, but this recipe really does call for a small shape pasta – this is what is traditionally used. You can use orzo, elbow macaroni or dilatini, as we did in the recipe pictured. The reason for the small pasta shape is more than just to keep with tradition. The small shape makes it easier to fork the pasta along with the octopus, ensuring that you get a bit of both with most bites.
How can I tell when the octopus is cooked?
The best way to know if an octopus is cooked is to pierce the skirt (this is the part of the octopus where the tops of the legs meet the head) with a sharp knife. If the knife enters the skirt easily and with no effort, then the octopus is ready. A properly cooked octopus should offer the same resistance as a boiled potato. A properly cooked octopus should be tender and delicious.
What if I can only find frozen octopus?
That’s totally fine. Even if you find unfrozen octopus, depending upon where you live, chances are it was frozen before you bought it. Some people say that frozen octopus is more tender than fresh octopus, so that’s a bonus! Another bonus to buying frozen octopus is that it will already be cleaned. The head of the octopus contains eyes, a mouth, a pair of beaks and a file-like organ which it uses to drill through the shell of its prey when necessary. Frozen octopus will most certainly already have these parts discarded (except maybe the beak – so look out for that). If you are buying your octopus fresh, simply ask your fishmonger to clean it for you.
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Octopus and pasta
- 1 frozen whole octopus, thawed approximately 2 pounds
- 2 tbsp water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, slivered
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3/4 cup (180 mL) red wine
- 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) tomato sauce
- 1 pound small dry pasta
- 2 cups (500 mL) water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- To begin you must first prepare your octopus. Place your defrosted octopus in a large pot with 2 bay leaves and 2 tablespoons of water. Heat over medium heat, covered. The octopus will release water and will cook in the liquid it releases.
- Check your octopus after 20 - 30 minutes. It is ready when it is fork tender, meaning that a fork can be inserted very easily into one of the tentacles, or in the space between where the tentacle meets the head.
- After your octopus has cooled enough to handle you can remove some of the dark film that will cover its body; this is optional but we tend to do this. Next, ensure that the beak of the octopus has been removed. The beak is found at the base of where the tentacles begin. It is black and resembles a bird's beak and must be removed.
- Next, cut the octopus tentacles into nugget size pieces. Cut the head into bite size pieces. Set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a clean large pot heat the olive oil and saute the onion, celery and garlic until softened. Add in the cinnamon sticks and the bay leaves you used when you boiled the octopus. Stir regularly so that you don't burn the garlic.
- Next to the pot add the red wine, tomato sauce and water. If you have any of the liquid that your octopus released when it was cooked, you can use that to replace some of the regular water. Add the salt and pepper. Mix and cook over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes.
- Grease the bottom of your baking pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. You should use a 9 x 14 inch rectangular baking pan or a round baking pan that can hold 14 - 15 cups (or 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 quarts).
- Pour your tomato sauce mixture into the baking pan and stir in the uncooked pasta. Stir well. Place the octopus pieces evenly on top of the pasta and cover your baking pan.
- Bake in the middle rack of your oven for approximately 30 minutes or until your pasta is cooked. Check your meal midway through the cooking time and add more water if required.