Last month, I mentioned a mouth-wateringly tempting recipe for a risotto with leeks, peas, and grilled squid, which I would’ve made in a heartbeat if not for the precarious act of keeping my checking account in the black.
If I were really serious about shopping for seafood on the cheap, I’d make the trek to Chinatown, but the allure of pre-cleaned fish and the convenience of one-stop shopping is almost always too much to resist; I hate to admit it, but I usually default to the closest Whole Foods. (I can almost hear Jill gasping at the horror.) At the overpriced megastore cost of $7.99 a pound, there still hasn’t been room for that particular cephalopod in my budget, so you can imagine my excitement to find an inexpensive, appropriate substitute (albeit one I’d never used before) in one of its cousins—baby octopus.
The guy at the seafood counter told me that octopus is chewier than squid, so I knew I couldn’t do a straight swap. I pulled out almost every cookbook in my collection, culling for pointers on how to cook the tentacled critters, with little luck; a Google search turned up a ton of recipes that called for them to be boiled awhile, then chilled and marinated overnight before either grilling or tossing in a Mediterranean-style seafood salad. The whole “wait 24 hours” thing didn’t meet my needs in the slightest—I’d held out long enough on this risotto and wanted to eat these little suckers (ha!) ASAP. Finally, I stumbled across a Mario Batali recipe with a methodology that would mesh well with the original recipe’s process, and headed to the kitchen.
While at the store, I’d picked up leeks and a few containers of chicken stock (erm, that same chicken stock I was supposed to make with the remnants of my delicious roast chickens, which were, at this point, still taking up space in the freezer); I had everything else I needed.
Multitasking was easy with the recipe’s timing: I chopped and washed the leeks while the octopi were simmering, whisked together the lemon vinaigrette while they were cooling, and let them marinate a bit while I stirred (…and stirred…and stirred) the risotto.
I’ll make a few adjustments when I try this again—use only a sprinkling of Parmesan instead of a quarter of a cup, as it overpowered some of the more delicate flavors; heretically eliminate the butter entirely; double the ingredients for the vinaigrette—but the end result was a mostly well-balanced, classically flavored dish. The crisp hint of sauvignon blanc complemented the gently sautéed leeks and springlike peas, the meaty octopus’s charred exterior provided a textural counterpoint to the starchy, cheesy rice, and a welcome dose of lemon lightened the whole thing.
My ultimate test of a recipe’s staying power is whether or not I wake up wanting leftovers for breakfast, and I’m pleased to report that this one passes with flying colors. It’s going straight into my permanent files.
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced and washed
1¼ cups Arborio rice
¼ cup dry white wine
½ cup frozen peas
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 pound cleaned baby octopus
1. Place octopus in a pot of cool water and add 1 wine cork. Bring to boil and lower heat to low boil. Cook 25 minutes, or until tender. (Mine needed awhile longer.) Drain and rinse and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, rub or wipe off any remaining exterior skin.
2. Whisk together 2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, scallion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl to make vinaigrette. Add cooled octopus and let stand 25 minutes or until risotto is finished.
3. Bring stock to a bare simmer in a medium saucepan, then keep at a bare simmer.
4. Cook leeks in 2 tablespoons oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
5. Add remaining tablespoon oil and rice to pot and cook, stirring constantly, until rice is coated evenly, about 1 minute. Add wine and briskly simmer, stirring, until most has been absorbed, about 1 minute.
6. Add 1 cup hot stock and briskly simmer, stirring constantly, until stock has been absorbed. Continue simmering and adding hot stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next, until 1 cup stock is left, 15 to 18 minutes. (This also took me quite a bit longer.) Add peas, leeks, and remaining cup stock and cook, stirring, until rice is just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in butter and cheese, then remove from heat.
7. When last cup of stock has been added to risotto, heat grill pan over high heat until hot. When risotto is done, remove octopus from vinaigrette (do not discard) and season with 1/8 teaspoon salt and oil grill pan. Grill octopus, pressing down with a spatula and turning halfway through, until crispy and slightly charred on each side, a minute or two per side. Toss with enough lemon vinaigrette to coat.
8. Serve risotto topped with calamari and drizzled with any remaining lemon vinaigrette. Serve with lemon wedges, if using.