Octopus and fennel salad is a typical Mediterranean dish, rich in flavor and nutrients. It can be either a delicious starter or a light lunch – in the latter case the portion should be larger. This salad is not only just beautiful and tasty, but it is also delightfully healthy.
Octopus is a low-calorie and lean seafood, rich in protein, minerals (in particular selenium) and vitamins, without too much fat. Fennel is purifying, diuretic and low in calories. Then, the addition of capers gives a piquant and salty flavor; the ones I used are from the beautiful island of Pantelleria (close to Sicily) and were picked directly from my cousin’s garden. Fresh produce, when possible, is always the tastier and healthier choice.
INSALATA DI POLPO E FINOCCHI (OCTOPUS AND FENNEL SALAD)
1 whole octopus, about 900 g (2 pounds)
1 celery stalk
1 medium carrot
1 medium yellow onion
2 bay leaves
2-3 black pepper corns
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 medium fennel bulbs, finely sliced
2 tablespoons capers, preserved in salt and washed
Mixed green lettuce
2 tablespoons organic lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil, extra-virgin
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Wash and clean the octopus, removing the ink sack and the internal parts
2. In a large pot bring to boil plenty of water with the carrot, celery, onion, bay leaves, black pepper corns and vinegar. Dip in only the tentacles (holding the head) 4-5 times to curl and soften them. Then, drop the whole octopus into the water, cover and cook on low heat for approx. 40 -45 minutes. The meat should be tender. Check with a fork. Don’t overcook
3. When the octopus is done, let it cool in the liquid, then remove from the water with tongs. Rub with a some paper towel to remove the skin. Chop off the head (there is not a lot of good meat in it) and cube the tentacles in small 2 cm-long pieces (about 1 in)
4. In a small bowl prepare the dressing by combining the lemon juice, a pinch of salt and the olive oil
5. Wash and slice the fennel with a mandolin
6. On a each plate place some lettuce, fennel, octopus and capers. Season with the dressing and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately. This salad is good freshly prepared, otherwise the fennel will turn brown quickly.
Note: When you buy the octopus, you can verify the freshness from its color; it should be bright and intense. Octopus meat is soft and tender, but it can also rubbery depending on the preparation. Traditionally, octopus was beaten on the rocks to tenderize its meat. If you don’t have a rocky coast just outside your kitchen door, you can tenderize it with a kitchen hammer for 5-10 minutes You can prepare a similar salad using potatoes instead of fennel. -Paola