Cooking with Octopus: Insalata di Polpo

With a few common vegetables and herbs, create a refreshing antipasto salad with octopus that is sure to entice eaters.


When Stefano was a child, he used to fish for polpi (octopuses) in the summer months when his family left the heat of Rome for their little house near the town of Latina along the Tyrrhenian Sea, a subdivision of the Mediterranean.


Because octopuses creep and crawl better than they swim, they like to congregate near rocks. Stefano and his cousins used to stand on the pier that stretched out over low cliffs and fish for the eight-tentacled creatures. To catch an octopus they used a special lure called a polpara, which had a little weighted body surrounded by fish hooks. The polpara was attached to a line, which they bobbed up and down to catch the octopus’ attention.


When a curious octopus wrapped its tentacles around the lure, they boys pulled the line up to claim their catch. Back home, Stefano’s mamma, Maria, or his aunt, Zia Elena, cooked the octopus and made a delicious antipasto of insalata di polpo.


Here in the land-locked Midwest of the United States, we fish for our octopus at the local seafood market, and enjoy the squeals of awe from our friends and family who’ve never handled or eaten this delicious sea creature.

Cooking with Octopus: Insalata di Polpo
With a few common vegetables and herbs, create a refreshing antipasto salad with octopus that is sure to entice eaters.
Recipe Type: Antipasto, Appetizer
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Serves: 4 servings
  • Two octopuses, approximately 500 grams or around 1 pound each.
  • 2 carrots, or a handful of baby carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • A bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • Olive oil, enough to cover octopus
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  1. Place the octopuses and a cork from a recently opened bottle of wine into a large pot of cold water. If you don’t have a bottle open, this is a great excuse to uncork one! No-one knows why, but southern Italians swear that a cork in the water renders the octopus more tender. Bring the water to a boil, and then let boil gently for 20 minutes. Turn off heat, and allow the octopus to cool to room temperature in the water it was cooked in.
  2. In the meantime, dice the carrots and celery finely, and the garlic super-finely. Chop about 2 tablespoons of flat leaf Italian parsley. Place it all together into a medium bowl.
  3. Remove the octopus from the water and pat it dry with paper towels. Cut into small pieces, and add it to the bowl. Cover with extra-virgin olive oil, stir in the juice of one lemon, and salt to taste. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes for the flavors to express themselves, then serve.


Cara Quinn & Stefano Follega

Due Spaghetti is our blog on the food, wine and other marvels of Italy. We are Italian expatriates living in the wonderful city of Minneapolis. Our mission is to share our favorite recipes, pairings, and other tips with you, so that you too can have a taste of La Dolce Vita. Ciao! I’m Stefano. I was born and grew up in Rome, where I helped my family tend to our olive groves and make olive oil each year, learned the secrets of homemade cooking from my mother and grandmother, and watched my father and grandfather make wine with grapes grown in the hill towns outside of Rome. Since then, I’ve studied wine formally through the International Sommelier Guild. I love sharing my knowledge of wine with others, especially when accompanied by authentic Italian food. Buon Giorno! I’m Cara. I am from the U.S., but I lived in Rome for 9 years, becoming enamored first with the Eternal City and then with Stefano. I married Stefano, became an Italian citizen, started our family in Rome, and while I was there I learned from family and friends the art of preparing Italian food and of appreciating life Italian style. I unwind in the kitchen, and find pleasure in serving delicious food to friends and family.

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