Friday, 24 February 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Two ways with octopus (Χταπόδι)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.  

On the rare occasions that I'm in the town centre during the day, I'm very easily tempted to buy some fresh fish from the open fish markets that operate only in the morning, closing just after lunch. They do not re-open in the evenings, one of the few businesses in the town that do not do so. Maybe it has something to do with the freshness of the product - nobody wants to buy 'fresh' fish that has been sitting in an ice-covered box all morning.

Even though I live in a coastal region, fish has always been an expensive commodity. Although I am tempted by the fishmonger's array, I usually look at the prices before I choose what to buy. I always buy fresh fish at the same place, because it's the first store in the centre that I encounter on entering the town after I park my car on the outskirts, thus it is the first place that catches my eye. The owner has gotten to know me. He knows that I will not pass by his shop without buying something.

After I had a good look at his prices, I mean his wares, I decided on some baby octopus: just 5 euro a kilo. I call that CHEAP, especially since I know I can make very frugal meals out of it. These two meals will be eaten on consecutive days because fish doesn't stay fresh for too long.

You need
1kg baby octopus (~5 euro) - you will probably get about 8-10 pieces.
It needs minimal cleaning - just take out the 'eye' found in the centre where the legs converge. Then open the head and carefully remove the ink sac. Then wash it and let it drain. Place all the ocotpus in a bowl, adding a glass of wine to marinate it.

For the first meal (serves 4), you need:
1/4 cup olive oil*
1 onion sliced thinly* 
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped*
half a kilo of baby octopus (4-5 pieces; see above)
a bunch (or two) or spinach and/or mixed fresh herbs (fennel weed and/or bulb, as well as parsley,work well here) (~0.50 cents)
200g of tomato puree (tinned will do - I use home-made tomato sauce)*
salt and pepper*
300g elbow macaroni  (~75 cents)

Heat the oil, saute the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the octopus (without draining it from the wine). Cover the pot and let the octopus cook in its own juices on low heat for half an hour. Then add the spinach, tomato and seasonings and cook for another half an hour in the same way. Finally, add the elbow macaroni and just enough water to cook the pasta, which will soak up all the liquids in the pot. Let the pasta cook uncovered for 15 minutes, adding more water as necessary until done.

Serve with a green salad (it doesn't need bread) and white wine.

Total cost of meal: about 4 euro; 1 euro per person.

For the second meal (serves 2-4, depending on whether it's an appetiser or main meal), you need:
half a kilo of baby octopus (4-5 pieces; see above)
a few tablespoons of olive oil*
one tomato, sliced (optional)*
salt and pepper*

I cooked this in the wood-fired oven

Take the octopus out of the bowl of wine and place it in a wide shallow baking tin. Add seasonings and oil, and place tomato slices (if using) on top of the octopus (to keep it from burning). Place the tin in the oven, uncovered, under the grill. Let the octopus cook in its own juices, turning it at least once. The total cooking time will be about half an hour. You can also cook it in a conventional oven (ie both elements, top and bottom, are on) - the octopus won't need much longer to cook.

Serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices and a green salad. Both these meals are suitable for Great Lent, which starts next week on Monday.

Total cost as a main meal: about 4 euro; 1 euro per person. 

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