When you’re a busy modern executive, web-based home-delivery services like FreshDirect can help you save those precious minutes it takes to race around a supermarket and snatch a few items off the shelves. When you’re into food, web-based home-delivery services like FreshDirect can be like, well…, like the daily temptation faced by a Frenchman living next door to a brothel.
So, everytime a flyer comes through our door informing us that a $50 purchase means an additional $25 worth for free, we are briefly gallant in our efforts to fight the urge, before capitulating and ordering all manner of products on the spur of the moment. Amongst our knee-jerk purchases just prior to Christmas were four quails, six soft-shell crabs, an immodest hunk of jamon serrano, and three large octopii – none of which were called for by our festive menu.
Consequently, because we had exceeded the capacity of our scant storage space, we were obliged to prioritize our consumption of said victuals based on what could fit in the freezer. I know we have your sympathy when I tell you that this forced us, quite literally, to gorge ourselves on quail and jamon one desperate night. The anguish. Happily, octopus not only freezes well, but freezing actually helps to tenderize it, so in to the ice-chest went our three 8-legged friends.
So recently, when the time came, and after having followed our tried and tested octopus boiling method on one of the ‘puses, we found ourselves reminiscing about a wonderful, crisp octopus salad we ate in the famed town of Alba in Italy’s Piemonte region two summers ago. Surprisingly, perhaps, for a restaurant specializing in Albanese specialties (truffles, mushrooms, game, and hearty red wines), but appropriate for the conditions, the salad was similar, if not identical, to the kind of insalati di polipo typically found in Puglia. Perfect as a first-course for lunch on a scorching summer’s day, the crunchy, yet tender, octopus worked beautifully with crunchy and fibrous celery in a lively dressing of lemon juice and an almost unbelievably bright unfiltered olive oil.
Now, here in New York the conditions of late have not exactly mirrored those of July in Alba, but, reasoning that there was no better cure for seasonal affective disorder than a big plate of crunchy, zesty tentacles and the memory of the sun-heated flagstones under our bare feet, we went right ahead and made this magnificent salad all the same. Indeed, because sunshine is so scarce at this time of year, you should treat yourself to some liquid sunshine – the year’s new olive oils are becoming available – and this is a salad that really benefits from the best extra virgin oil you can afford.
Insalata di Polipo alla Pugliese (Puglian-Style Octopus & Celery Salad)
1 octopus (allowed to cool after being boiled and prepared in the traditional way), grilled on a grill, griddle pan, flat top or skillet and chopped into bite-sized chunks
2 large celery stalks, chopped roughly
1 plum tomato, chopped roughly
1/2 red onion, chopped roughly
3 tbsp flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1 clove garlic, smashed & chopped finely
3 tbsp your best olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of salt & black pepper (substituting hot red pepper flakes for the black pepper works nicely)
Combine all ingredients together in a bowl. Mix well to ensure oil and lemon juice coat all components. Enjoy with thoughts of summer.