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Pan Seared Octopus with Spicy White Beans

Two Saturdays ago, it was Valentine Day. I happen to really like this holiday. I always have, even if my early experience with it was atypical. Why, do you ask? Well, for one, I always seemed to be crushing on guys, not being crushed on. If you have access to the high school album on my facebook, you’ll understand. Second of all, I went to a small, private, all-girl prep for my high school years. And in that school, every year on February 14, the office would be flooded with expensive looking flowers, candy and frou-frou items of the sort. These would arrive with a card that said, “Love, Dad.” Remember, teenage boyfriends aren’t that smooth, and this was a school filled less with city riff-raff such as myself, and more with pretty girls from wealthy suburbia. One year, I asked my own dad why none of these deliveries were ever addressed to me. In the honesty that he became known for, he flatly replied, “Well you’re not my Valentine.” And scene.

Most teenage girls are insecure. Most insecure teenage girls would have burst into tears at this answer. But I didn’t. What I did do, however, was realize that his answer was so perfectly on spot, from then on, I really enjoyed the day for what it was. A day to show love, a day to let someone know you care. Today, in 2015, we are inundated with negativity. Violence. Anger. Pessimism. So what if Valentine celebrations have fully turned into a Hallmark day? (Isn’t Christmas, with all the neurotic moms these days scampering around to make sure oh-my-god-these-kids-will-get-everything-they-want-and-move-that-shelf-elf-thing-before-they-wake-up-or-else!!!!) In my opinion, it’s a fun little day to bring lightness and positivity to this world. My dad had it right – show that true love some extra attention, and if you don’t have a true love, just be kind.

But back to the weekend. Saturday was going to be a night in, where my true love would cook. Every year I look forward to the same dish – vodka crème sauce over pasta. So last Friday, pasta was off the menu. Between the bonkers amount of snow lately preventing me from my daily running, to sitting at this desk figuring out my future, girlfriend's waist need not pasta night after night. What to make? This guy:


Sometime over the fall I had made this exact dish, and it was delicious. I decided to try and recreate it on yet another frigid night. I picked up our little eight-legged buddy from the seafood counter and dashed home with a quick stop at Campbell. Upon telling my ladies that I would be making a spicy octopus with polenta, it was agreed that all cheeses for the board should be Spanish, and we should only speak that language for the remainder of the evening. One of those two happened.

Cooking an octopus is really not as daunting as it seems. Place him in the pot, fill with water, and slowly simmer about an hour for every two pounds. This time around I squeezed lemon in there and tossed in a little salt because it seemed like the right thing to do? You’ll know when it’s cooked because the legs, which are 2 -3 feet long, curl up and any excess ink will have stained the water a deep reddish purple. While the octopus slowly cooked, I finished up any chores around the house and made myself look presentable.

Cocktail time! Frank came home and sorted our playlist while I started on prep and then got a little fancy with the cheeses. Yep, I broke out the chalk and labeled everything. Valentine weekend was going to be classy! Slippers and cheese...


From what I could remember, this dinner would be extremely easy to remake. It was simplistic, and showcased the idea that not all flavorful dishes need to be intricate. As Frank and I devoured the cheeses from España and the octopus rested, I started the sauce that would dress the dish. A whole bunch of butter, salt and pepper, crushed red pepper flakes. Adding the red pepper as soon as the butter has melted with give the sauce depth. Simply sprinkling it on top when serving will just give you a bite of heat, rather than melding the flavor into the meal. After a few minutes, I added about two tablespoons of tomato paste, seasoned again, and let that simmer. Then I added a can of white beans and one bulb of shaved fennel. This was the sauce – thin, spicy and filled with heat.


Meanwhile, before I prepped the octopus to sear, the polenta I made earlier in the day was ready for its finishing touch. I had made the grits and let them chill in a pan, then popped out the sheet onto a cutting board. Because it was Valentine weekend, I used a tiny heart-shaped cookie cutter to give some love to this simple peasant food. Now broiling in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up, I sliced the octopus and seared it on high heat in olive oil. Yes, it makes a mess. Yes, it’s worth it. (And yes, I clean up the stove immediately.)

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Somewhere in between all of this I managed to get a salad together. Blanched Brussels sprout leaves, sliced shallot and apple. Dressed with red wine vinegar and almond oil, I hoped this would be a refreshing, bright crunch to the dinner.


I plated and gave the dish a healthy handful of chopped parsley to finish, with a drizzle of olive oil. How did it turn out? Great. Great, but thinking back to the first time I made this, something was missing. Not sure what, but it was just shy of...something. The octopus was per-fect. The salad was definitely a great complement. The sauce? I can’t be sure if it was too spicy or not spicy enough. But, after we sat and ate, talked, and enjoyed the wine, one thing was a definite. After this Friday the 13th was over, I had a whole Saturday of Valentine waiting ahead. I couldn’t get to that next dinner fast enough.

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