Baby Octopus and Tomato Soup and Beetroot Salad

It’s a real winter down here in Australia, a real wet winter and it feels like it’s been raining every day. At least in Melbourne, anyway. Just for fun I’ve decided to put a recipe together, which I threw together for dinner, and I’m curious to see what you think of it. It’s a simple, seasonal take on soup and salad, although it’s possible to tweak it into a stew without too much trouble.

Baby Octopus and Tomato Soup

I love baby octopus. I love octopus actually, but it’s amazing how many people just won’t eat it if it’s not crumbed, fried and otherwise unrecognisable. Maybe it’s the tentacles. But as winter gets going, the little baby octopi (or octopuses depending on what school of thought you subscribe to) start appearing at fish markets, cleaned, gutted and ready to eat. You can of course use older octopus in the recipe below, but I find the tenderising and cleaning to be a much more tedious process, especially if the ink sacs are left in. Okay, have I put you off yet? Personally, I love the soft, yielding texture of well cooked octopus, especially infused with the sweetness of a tomato and carrot broth, so I have a tendency to make this when the cold rolls in.

6 Baby Octopus cut into segments
10 Prawns, shelled and de-veined
2 cans of whole tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 large carrots, grated
1 chilli, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup of red wine
salt and pepper for seasoning
A neutral cooking oil (rice bran suggested)
Extra virgin olive oil for flavour

In a large saucepan, sweat the onion and garlic in the neutral cooking oil, and then add the baby octopus, tins of tomatoes, rosemary, grated carrot, chilli, red wine and a good grind (or pinch, or half teaspoon) or salt and pepper. Allow to simmer on a low heat for 2 hours, or until the carrot breaks down.

Add in the tomato paste to add extra flavour, and allow to reduce to the desired consistency–remember to taste, taste, taste! If you’re after a soup, you’ll want a more watery consistency, if you’re after a stew to be served over rice, mash or cous cous, you’ll want to allow it to reduce more. Add the prawns about 5-10 minutes before you take the soup off, as they take less time to cook, and adjust seasoning to taste. Remove the woody rosemary stalks. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve with crusty bread.

If you’re feeling artistic, garnish with some perennial basil from the salad (below).

Serves 2-4.

Suggested tweaks:

  • Feel free to add other seafoods, such as white fish or mussels. Just remember that most seafood cooks very quickly, whereas octopus either needs to be cooked very fast, or very slow, which is why it’s allowed to simmer here.
  • You can use other herbs than rosemary. Thyme or oregano would work all right, depending on what you have available.

Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad

This is hardly a new combination, and it’s a classic, but if you’ve never tried it, I suggest you give it a go. It certainly beats getting beetroot from a can!

8 baby beetroots
100 grams soft goats cheese
A good bunch of basil (I used perennial, but sweet basil will work just as well)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper.

Clean up you baby beets by removing any excess ‘hair’ from the root system. You don’t want to take it all off, but leaving too much on isn’t too pleasant to eat later. Boil your baby beets in just enough water to cover them until soft (a sharp knife should slide into them easily), and then toss them in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper and salt and roast for 20 minutes in a 180 degree (Celcius, about 360 Farenheit) oven. Once roasted, cut them into quarters and place them in a bowl along with the picked leaves of your basil, and crumble the goats cheese over the top. Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and lemon juice for a quick dressing, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 2, or 3 not too hungry people.

If you want to bulk up the salad and want to add some other elements, try adding in boiled green beans or slicing in a raw yellow capsicum. Or both. Both works very well.

And that’s it. I don’t know if that’ll go down well, but I’ve been doing a fair bit of cooking at home recently, and thought I’d share. If you try it, let me know if the recipe works or if it needs a bit of tweaking!