As a way of combating bouts of picky eating, we let each of the kids choose dinner for the family one night per week.  They are in charge and they have to help cook.  The other kid sets the table.  Most weeks, this is a simple negotiation of which one gets to pick pizza and which one gets to pick pasta.  Out of nowhere this week one of them insisted on octopus.  We made it once last summer and they loved how it wiggles around as it was cooking in the skillet.  Counterintuitive fact: my kids are fascinated by foods that actually look like animals.  If you think your kids are similarly inclined and you haven’t done this, take them to a fish monger (not a grocery store but a proper fish market) and let them pick out something awesome.  Cook it with them.  Even if they don’t love it, you will both have fun finding out.  But I digress.

The other kid was not really feeling the nostalgia and said he only wanted pasta for dinner.  This is what compromise looks like:

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Our House Sauce Recipe

This is more of a process than a recipe.  It can be quick or slow.  If it is quick (<30 min, while you are largely doing other things, like boiling pasta), it is better than jar sauce.  If it is slow (up to 4 hours, while you are largely doing other things, like napping), it is really super lovely. It is infinitely flexible.  At its purest, it has 3 ingredients, but it can be dressed up however you’d like to suit your meal. It can be large or small (I’ve made this with one garlic clove and one can of tomatoes and I have made this with a head of garlic and 8 cans of tomatoes).

Method:

In a medium sauce pan, add enough mild olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan to about ¼ inch deep.  Over gentle heat, fry two whole garlic cloves until they are tan and blistery and smell nice.  The slower you can do this, the better.  But if you only have a few minutes, crush the clove under a chef’s knife and turn the heat up a little.  The only really important thing is never to burn the garlic.  Because burned garlic tastes awful.  But you knew that.

Remove the garlic and tip two 28oz/880g cans of whole roma tomatoes into the pan and bring to a simmer.  Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.  Leave this to simmer for anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours, but keep the heat low and don’t let the bottom burn.  (And if the bottom does burn, for the love of god just leave it and don’t churn the burny bits up into the unburned sauce.)

Toss with good quality nicely cooked pasta.  Drink with a lovely red Italian.

Tonight’s Adaptation, as an example:

To adapt this recipe for octopus and squid, I fried off finely diced onion and fennel in the oil after removing the garlic and before adding the tomatoes.  Once they were nice and fragrant and soft (10-15 min) I added a squeeze of anchovy paste and the canned tomatoes.  After another hour of simmering, I added chopped capers.  I gently fried 4 squid bodies in a skillet and when nearly done (just curled up), chucked them in the sauce and put the spaghetti in a pot of boiling salted water.  While waiting for the spaghetti, I fried off the baby octopus garnish and popped them on top of the pile of pasta.  (“Fried off” is a Britishism and I kind of like it.  Isn’t sautéed a little overly precise for just throwing something in a hot skillet with some oil?).  The same process can be used to doctor with nearly anything.  Just consider whether it needs to be softened with the garlic and onions (fennel, celery, leeks), simmered with the tomatoes (spinach, clams) or cooked separately and added in at the end (mushrooms).  For bacon, I would brown it in the beginning and keep the fat to fry the garlic.  Add the bacon back in with the tomatoes but keep some for garnish.  Because everyone likes a little extra bacon.

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16 Thoughts on “Friday Night Family Meal

  1. Richard Holwill on February 1, 2013 at 10:51 pm said:

    This is hysterical. The photos look almost like toys atop pasta. Congrats to Stella for this inspired choice.

  2. Richard Holwill on February 1, 2013 at 10:51 pm said:

    This is hysterical. The photos look almost like toys atop pasta. Congrats to Stella for this inspired choice.

  3. J has been dying for swordfish. I bought a few steaks at my new fishmonger today. I think he was disappointed that they didn’t come with, you know, A SWORD.

  4. J has been dying for swordfish. I bought a few steaks at my new fishmonger today. I think he was disappointed that they didn’t come with, you know, A SWORD.

  5. I want a plate! Talk about having fun with your food! I wonder if you could even find octopus like that in DC. Americans are so afraid of food that looks like what it is.

    • You can! Last summer we got baby octopus at the fishmonger at Eastern Market. Go when it is not as busy and make friends with the older guy. He took care of me all summer while we were on our grilling-whole-fish-outside kick. Twice a week he’d set me up with something new til we’d pretty much eaten our way through his selection.

  6. I want a plate! Talk about having fun with your food! I wonder if you could even find octopus like that in DC. Americans are so afraid of food that looks like what it is.

    • You can! Last summer we got baby octopus at the fishmonger at Eastern Market. Go when it is not as busy and make friends with the older guy. He took care of me all summer while we were on our grilling-whole-fish-outside kick. Twice a week he’d set me up with something new til we’d pretty much eaten our way through his selection.

  7. Sounds good. Can we try it when we visit

  8. Sounds good. Can we try it when we visit

  9. ADExile on February 3, 2013 at 7:43 pm said:

    Ok, were those poor little baby octopi alive when fried? (say no, just humour me.)

    • They were not. In fact, back in DC I found fresh baby octopi at Eastern Market. This week I could only find frozen ones. A big bag of frozen ones. I cooked 6 on Friday. I have about 25 left in the freezer. So this dish may be in the rotation for a while.

  10. ADExile on February 3, 2013 at 7:43 pm said:

    Ok, were those poor little baby octopi alive when fried? (say no, just humour me.)

    • They were not. In fact, back in DC I found fresh baby octopi at Eastern Market. This week I could only find frozen ones. A big bag of frozen ones. I cooked 6 on Friday. I have about 25 left in the freezer. So this dish may be in the rotation for a while.

  11. How would you recommend doing a simple margherita-style sauce (just basil, tomatoes and garilc)? I’m thinking it would need a little more flavor than just the basil garnish. onions? Thanks, Chef Kate!

  12. How would you recommend doing a simple margherita-style sauce (just basil, tomatoes and garilc)? I’m thinking it would need a little more flavor than just the basil garnish. onions? Thanks, Chef Kate!

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