This recipe was inspired by a beautiful baby octopus stew at Olivomare, one of my favourite restaurants. They specialise in Sardinian seafood - big bold flavours and perfectly cooked fish. Every time I visit I leave feeling euphoric.
Cuttlefish are one of seafood's unrecognised gems. They may look icky and covered in black ink at the fishmonger's, but you can get them cleaned - make sure to keep the tentacles! Gently simmered for an hour, cuttlefish is more tender than octopus, and tastier than squid.
This is one of those dishes that makes you sit back afterwards and just smile.
You can make shellfish stock easily from any shells - I used the leftover crayfish shells from our feast but prawns, crab, lobster if you've been lucky, or anything else will do fine. Just brown them in a saucepan with a large knob of butter until they smell delicious, pour over enough water to cover the shells and bring to the boil. I like to let the shells cool in the stock, then break them up with a wooden spoon and strain the whole lot through a colander and then a very fine metal sieve. Your stock will be a rich ochre colour and smell musky, like a concentrated shellfish bisque without any cream added.
Serves two for supper
a small onion, finely chopped
a cuttlefish, cleaned by your friendly fishmonger, cut into large bite sized shapes
half a glass of white wine
about 500ml shellfish stock
a chilli, split in half
a tablespoon of tomato purée
flat-leafed parsley, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
First skin the tomatoes. Cut a cross in the base of each tomato. Keep the cuts as shallow as possible - you want to slice the skin but not the flesh. Bring a saucepan of water to boil, add the tomatoes and turn the heat down to very low. In about 30 seconds or a minute you'll see the skins start to peel away. Remove the tomatoes and put them into a bowl of cold water. You should be able to peel off their skins easily. Chop them coarsely and set aside.
Put the onion in a puddle of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot, cover and allow to soften gently over a low heat for five to ten minutes. Once the onions are translucent and soft, turn up the heat and add the cuttlefish along with some salt and pepper.
You want to sear the cuttlefish until it starts to smell fragrant and delicious, about five minutes or so. Then add the white wine, scrap the sediment from the bottom of the pan, and add the stock, tomatoes, chilli and tomato paste. Bring everything to the boil and simmer gently for an hour without a lid, allowing the sauce to reduce.
Finish the stew with a little lemon juice, just enough to make the cuttlefish sauce sparkle, and a scattering of chopped parsley.
Eat in big steaming bowls, with warm chewy crusty bread to mop up the juices.