Cookbook Profile

Octopus with Swiss Chard
and Braised Onions

Polpo con Bietola e Cipollotte all' Agrodolce
Serves 6


On the off chance that you have yet to discover the delicious flavor of octopus, look at the Italians—they virtually swoon over the eight-armed creatures. Your palate is sure to appreciate them more than your eyes, for they are as sweet a gift from the sea as anything you could imagine. Trust us on this one. Octopus come in all sizes, but the smallest will be the most tender. Old Italian cookbooks recommend tenderizing the meat by pounding it. Our fishmonger advises us to freeze it overnight, or even buy it frozen. The extreme cold has the same effect as pounding, only it's easier on all the participants. Almost all octopus available in the United States is predressed (i.e., cleaned of its eyes, mouth, and viscera). Ask your fishmonger to clean it for you if it is fresh off the boat and still fully intact.

When we're in Italy, instead of Swiss chard, we use agretti, an early spring vegetable that looks something like clumps of deep green sea grass. It has a slightly mouth-puckering sourness appropriate for its name, which stems from agro, Italian for sour." If you ever have the good fortune to come across agretti, take home a couple of pounds, boil them for 10 minutes in salted water, and dress them with olive oil and lemon juice.


For the Octopus
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 pounds octopus, cleaned and
   cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup white wine
Freshly ground black pepper

For the Chard
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds Swiss chard,
   carefully washed, thick stems removed

The Rest
1 recipe braised onions


The octopus:
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a heavy-bottomed casserole over a medium flame. Add the garlic and shallots, stirring frequently until the shallots soften and the garlic is fragrant. Add the octopus and white wine to the pot and stir for a minute or two while the alcohol evaporates. Then add 2 cups of water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 1 hour without lifting the lid.

In the meantime, whisk together 1/4 cup of olive oil with 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Wash the chard thoroughly, but do not dry it; it will cook in the water that clings to its leaves. Remove and discard any tough, thick stems but leave the smaller, thin ones. Place the chard leaves in a large pot over a medium flame, sprinkle them with salt, and cook them, stirring frequently, until the leaves and thin stems are soft and wilted (5 to 7 minutes). Drain and dress with the olive oil and lemon dressing.

Prepare the braised onions.

Transfer the cooked octopus to the center of a large serving platter and surround it with the chard. Scatter the onions evenly over the chard and serve immediately.


Braised Onions

Cipollotte in Agrodolce
Serves 6

Small onions cooked this way taste both tart and slightly sweet. This is a perfect accompaniment for roasted meats or fish.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 small boiling onions,
   1 to 2 inches in diameter, outer skins removed
3/4 cup dry white wine


Over a medium flame, heat the olive oil in a short-sided, heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onions and sauté them, rolling them around in the pan until they brown thoroughly (about 15 minutes). Pour the wine into the pan and mix well with the onions and oil. After the wine reduces, add a cup of water to the pan, reduce the heat to the lowest flame, and cover. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water, if necessary, 1/2 cup at a time as the liquid evaporates in the pan.

Buy the Book!


Italy Anywhere:
Living an Italian Culinary Life
Wherever You Call Home

By Lori De Mori, Jean-Louis De Mori
and Antonio Tommasi
Viking, September, 2000
Hardback, $29.95
ISBN: 0-670-88539-8
Recipe reprinted by permission.


Italy Anywhere


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This page created December 2000