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Polpo in umido

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Polpo in umido means "stewed Octopus".

The recipe, with slight modifications, is common all across Southern Italy, from Campania to Sicilia.

Super easy to make, you can serve it as a main meal with some nice toasted bread and you can save some for the next day and use it as a sauce for a delicious bowl of pasta!



  • 1 pound octopus (more or less), already cleaned

  • 4 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)

  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes

  • 1 can of tomato purée (or crushed tomatoes)

  • 1/2 cup of black olives

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Fresh herbs as oregano, parsley, basil or dill


  1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add a pinch of salt.

  2. Toss the octopus into the pot with and cook for a couple of minutes.

  3. Drain the octopus and cut it into smaller pieces, the size you prefer.

  4. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan and add the octopus, sauté over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes.

  5. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for another minute or two.

  6. Now, add the chopped tomatoes, the tomato puree, and the chili flakes. Reduce the heat and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

  7. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 5/10 minutes to check if anything is getting stuck to the pan. If the sauce starts to get too dry, add half a glass of water and stir.

  8. Towards the end of the cooking time, about the last 5 minutes, add the olives.

  9. Sprinkle your fresh herbs and serve.

Buon Appetito!


Should you add cork to your pot when cooking an octopus?

Octopus is very popular in the Mediterranean sea, so there are plenty of delicious recipes across southern Italy. There is also a widespread belief: it is said that adding a cork to the cooking water makes the octopus more tender. The story originates in Bari - the main city of the Puglia region - when the "polpari" (the fishermen) used to sell cooked octopus on the streets. They would cook them in large pots with boiling water, tying a cork to the octopus with a string.

Unfortunately, there is no scientific proof regarding the efficacy of this practice. The reason why the fishermen would tie the cork to the octopus was to grab them quickly with the string, avoiding spending time looking for them in the big pots with boiling water. At the same time, if more than one fisherman was using the same pot, they could easily distinguish their goods using different types of cork. Although they know the truth, many cooks in Italy are still adding a cork to their pot when they boil octopus or squids...just in case!


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