In the relatively small town where I live, there are many foreigners. More foreigners than ‘original’ Germans, possibly: I asked a friend of mine if she had heard about integration problems here, and she laughed and answered: well, possibly some Germans have a few difficulties …
The Italian community is one of the largest, and they have been here for roughly two generations: I meet people more or less my age (20-30), who will tell me ‘Anch’io sono Italiano!’, proud of their origins, and then switch back to German , because actually they were born here and the Italian they speak is the home version, rich of dialect influences, which I often don’t understand.
The guy who sells me potatoes every Saturday, together with his German girlfriend, is the smiling and friendly son of a Sicilian couple. A few weeks ago a new type of potatoes appeared, called ‘La Ratte’, twice as expensive as the normal ones. Salad potatoes, long and twisted. Of course I had to try a few – this is potato heaven after all! ‘You are going to see’ – he told me in Italian ‘these are the Ferrari of the potatoes’ – and then he added laughing, in German ‘though I would probably sell more if I told the Germans they are the Mercedes..’
Well, nationalistic issues apart, these potatoes lived up to their fame, though I never drove a Ferrari – or a Mercedes, for what matters. They have a great texture and flavour, and work beautifully in salads. They are good with or without skin, so you can choose whether you want to peel them or not.
I paired these potatoes with octopus. I love octopus salad, a great mediterranean classic for a summer starter. It is quite ubiquitous in Italy but also in Croatia, where we often go for holidays. I remember one evening, starving after a long and tiring day of holiday (the type I prefer), we ordered octopus salad and prepared for the long, usual wait. It was a quiet little village, a bit our of season, so we were alone, and we did wait hours – all that time listening to the noise of the cook chopping octopus in the kitchen! And in the end, when the salad arrived, it was a gargantuan portion. The quiet evening in the fishermen village, and the noise of the chopping, while laughing with my friends, is one of my dearest memories. Another one is eating baby octopus in Padova, my home town, with my father. Padova has two beautiful medieval piazza, and in between, ‘sotto il salone’, under the city hall, a fantastic food market. In winter stalls appear selling cooked fish and glasses of white wine for a quick snack. The most traditional, and delicious, choice, is ‘folpetti’: lifted out of the cauldron, roughly chopped, a splash of olive oil, a toothpick to eat them, and there you go: the best aperitivo in town. The only problem is finding the appetite to eat them between a Christmas lunch and a family dinner.
Whenever I make this salad, I prepare loads of it, although, yes, there is some chopping involved. I find it keeps quite well, about four days in the fridge, and it is also great in lunch boxes. What brings the dish together is a quality olive oil. I like it flavoured with parsley, lemon and garlic, but also vinegar and onions are variations I have often seen. You can consider adding another vegetables as well, for instance some crunchy celery stalks, or tomato cubes. I hope you are not frightened by octopus. It is really easy to prepare, the only problem being a possibly rubbery texture when cooked: you just have to remember to cook it for a long time, or use a pressure cooker. Squids have a cooking window where they are soft, but if you over or under cook them, they will be tough. That is not true for octopus. Actually frozen octopus tends to be softer than fresh one, so if you are worried and have fresh octopus, consider freezing it. Here it is not easy to find – again, I have to thank my Italian grocery store, where they store it frozen. Try also oriental stores, they might have it.
one kilo octopus, fresh or (better) frozen (2 medium-large ones, 4-5 small-medium ones)
dries red chilli
one kilo salad potatoes
big bunch of parsley
3 garlic cloves
2-3 tablespoon olive oil
juice from one lemon
salt, black pepper
Start with the octopus. If the octopus is fresh, rinse it under running water. Put the octopus in your pressure cooker, if using, or in a big pot with a thick bottom. Cover with cold water, add a couple of bay leaves and a couple of chillies, and bring to the boil. Close the pressure cooker or put a lid on the pot, lower the heat to minimum, and let it simmer until the octopus is really soft. It takes about 30-40 minutes for small octopus with a pressure cooker, it can take 2-3 hours for big ones without pressure cooker. Once the meat is soft, let the octopus get warm in its cooking liquid. Lift it out, and start cleaning it. Some people don’t like the skin and peel it off. I am not bothered, but you can choose (it also depends on how big the octopus is). There are some parts you want to get rid of: everything inside the octopus belly, and the hard part at the center of the legs. Just take them off – you can use a small, sharp knife, or even more conveniently, good kitchen scissors – and chop the octopus into small pieces. Cut also the potatoes to slices or cubes. Chop the parsley, and crush the garlic. Mix everything together with olive oil, lemon juice, some salt (not too much, sometimes the octopus is already salty) and black pepper. Can be eaten warm or at room temperature.