August is the month when Italians take off for vacation in droves, most heading for the seaside. Many Italian cities become ghost towns, populated only by handwritten signs reading CHIUSO PER FERIE ("Closed for holidays") and overheated tourists.
In bustling beachside eateries during these summer months, various seafood salads are popular for seafood-based lunches—or light lunches in themselves, when accompanied by some hearty, crusty bread. There are many variations, of course, but one of the most common—and one of my favorites—is a simple, traditional version made with octopus, potatoes, parsley, and celery. The purist, traditional version is flavored only with olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, salt, and black pepper, but you can also add garlic, fresh mint, or red chili pepper flakes as well if you want a more piquant version.
- 1 pound octopus, cleaned (fresh or frozen, frozen is preferable as it will be more tender when cooked)
- 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cleaned
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- freshly squeezed juice of 1 large lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
- fine sea salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus whole leaves for garnish
- 1 celery rib, thinly sliced
- lemon wedges, for garnish
- optional: 1 garlic clove, minced
- optional: 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- optional: 1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
Place the octopus in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add 2 teaspoons of fine sea salt and bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Let barely simmer over gentle heat just 3-5 minutes; the octopus will be moist and have a slight chew (octopus can either be just quickly cooked, as suggested here, for a slightly chewy but still tender consistency or slowly braised for about 1 hour over a very low flame. For a salad such as this, the quick method with a firmer texture is preferable, in my opinion). Remove from heat and set aside to let cool.
Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, add 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
In a medium bowl, toss the still-warm potato slices with the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the parsley and celery and stir to combine.
Cut the octopus into 1-inch chunks and add to the potato mixture. Stir to combine. If using, add the optional garlic, mint, and chili pepper flakes and combine.
Serve at room temperature, each serving accompanied by a lemon wedge and crusty bread. You can chill the salad in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving, but let it return to room temperature before serving to allow the flavors to shine fully.
It will go well accompanied by any well-chilled, dry white wine.