Thursday, February 9, 2017

Zuppa di Polpi e Ceci

     Italian Octopus and Chick Pea Soup!
     There are several variations of Zuppa di Polpi e Ceci in Italy.  This is a fishing village style soup and the basic ingredients have been used to make this recipe for hundreds of years before the Columbian Exchange took place.  Like many Italian recipes, items from the new world found their way into traditional old Zuppa recipes.  Tomatoes from South America added more Vitamin C, which increased the revitalizing effect.
     Italian cooking always has a goal of maximizing the flavor of the key items in a recipe, without adding extra ingredients.  Sometimes this goal calls for preparing food items for a soup in stages, instead of just tossing everything in a pot and bringing the liquid to a boil.  For today's soup recipe, the chick peas are flavored with bay leaves and rosemary, before being pureed.  The octopus is blanched in hot water and then sautéed and simmered with garlic, pancetta and mirepoix vegetables, before it turned into a soup.  Tomato, lemon and wine sharpens the flavor of this soup.  A few Italian herbs are added while the soup gently simmers, so the flavor of the herbs remain crisp.  It is the little things, like adding ingredients in stages, that makes an Italian Zuppa great!
     Both octopus and squid are tender when quickly cooked.  If cooked for more than a few minutes, octopus becomes tough and rubbery.  The octopus will not become tender again, unless it is simmered or stewed for at least 35 minutes.  For today's recipe, the octopus should only be poached till it becomes tender.  After the chilled poached octopus is sliced, it is briefly sautéed, then simmered for a long period of time.
     Octopus Preparation: 
     This recipe yields about 14 ounces of poached octopus meat.  
     Step 1:  Select a medium size raw octopus that weighs about 14 to 16 ounces.
     Cut off the head.
     *The head can be cleaned and used to make broth for another recipe.
     Remove the beak bulb, without damaging the tentacle section.
     The tentacle section should look like a ring of muscle with the tentacles attached.
     Step 2:  Peel any loose skin membrane off of the tentacle section.
     Rinse the tentacle section under cold running water.
     Step 3:  Place enough water in a wide sauce pot to cover the octopus tentacle section.  (About 2 quarts.)
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
     Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat.
     Step 4:  Place the octopus tentacle section in the boiling water.
     Poach the octopus tentacle section till it is fully cooked and tender.  (About 2 minutes.)
     Step 5:  Place the poached octopus in a container of ice water.
     Drain off the water.
     Peel off any remaining loose skin membrane.
     *The poached octopus tentacles will be an opaque whitish color with purple highlights.  If the suction cups are extra large, they can be trimmed off.  Small suction cups should be left intact.
     Step 6:  Thin slice enough of the octopus tentacles for 1/3 cup.  (1 portion)
     Cut off 1 whole tentacle and add it to the 1/3 cup of sliced tentacles.
     Chill the prepared octopus tentacles till they are needed.
     *The rest of the tentacle section can be saved for another recipe.
     Zuppa di Polpi e Ceci:
     This recipe yields 2 1/4 cups.  (1 portion of soup)
     Most Italian seafood zuppa are cooked to order.  Placing a zuppa in a soup warmer for an extended time will cause the zuppa to lose its character.  For Zuppa di Polpi e Ceci, the chickpeas can be prepared ahead of time.  
     Step 1:  Place 1 cup of rinsed cooked chickpeas (or rinsed canned chickpeas) in a sauce pot.
     Add 2 cups of light vegetable broth.
     Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat.
     Step 2:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of rosemary leaves.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Simmer the chickpeas, till they become very tender.
     Step 3:  Use a slotted spoon to remove 1/4 cup of whole chickpeas and set them aside in a bowl.
     Step 4:  Pour the remaining chickpeas and broth through a fine mesh strainer into a container.
     Use a spoon to press the chick peas through the fine mesh strainer into the broth.  (Passata)
     Set the container of chickpea puree broth aside.
     Discard the chickpea skins and herbs that are in the strainer.
     Step 5:  Heat a wide sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 2 minced garlic cloves.
     Add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped Pancetta.
     Add 1 tablespoon each of:
     - finely chopped carrot
     - finely chopped celery
     - finely chopped onion
     Sauté till the soffritto vegetables are tender, but not browned.
     Step 6:  Add the reserved sliced poached octopus.
     Add the reserved whole poached octopus tentacle.
     Add 1 pinch of crushed dried red pepper.  (Chile Caribe)
     Add 2 pinches of oregano.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Saute the octopus for 1 minute.
     Step 7:  Add 1/2 cup of peeled seeded chopped fresh plum tomato.
     Add 8 whole basil leaves.
     Briefly sauté till the tomatoes are tender.
     Step 8:  Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1/4 cup of dry white wine.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Step 9:  Add the reserved chickpea puree broth.
     Add the reserved whole chickpeas.
     Bring the broth to a gentle boil.
     Step 10:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of chopped Italian Parsley.
     Gently simmer and reduce the soup for 30 minutes.
     *The finished volume should be about 2 1/4 cups and the chickpea puree broth should be a rich medium consistency.  Only add water if necessary.  
     Step 11:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Remove the whole octopus tentacle and set it aside.
     Ladle the Zuppa di Polpi e Ceci into a large soup bowl.
     Float the whole octopus tentacle on the center of the soup.
     Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of virgin olive oil on the surface of the soup.
     Garnish the soup with an Italian Parsley sprig.
     Zuppa di Polpi e Ceci is a hearty fishing village style soup that is perfect for chilly weather!

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