Turning 30 with Ragù di Polpo e Pancetta

Octopus & Bacon Ragu with Penne Pasta

So, last year I turned 30 and I decided that I needed to eat well in order to celebrate my coming of age… The age of what? Well, to finally own my business, Italian Inspirations, which incorporates my skills and interests:  an insatiable curiosity about food, an affinity for Italian language & culture, teaching, writing, cooking and exploring. During my birthday dinner at Anchovies & Olives (one of Seattle’s Ethan Stowell delights, located at 1550 15th Ave., between E. Pine and E. Madison on Capitol Hill), I was struck by the array of delicious (onion-free) menu options that jumped out at me, but remained completely entranced by the thought of an octopus and pancetta ragu. It did not disappoint and, instead, has been etched in my mind as a fantastic creation that needed further exploration from the comfort of my own kitchen. Although it was more than 6 months ago that I first tasted this unbelievable dish, I have been inspired ever since to recreate it. So finally, last night, with the help of my patient boyfriend/prep cook/taster, I gave it a go. And we ate merrily and discussed a few minor adjustments that would exalt the polpo as much as the pancetta…and they’ve been added to the following recipe. Enjoy! (We washed it down with a bold Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but anything Sicilian would probably go very well with this flavorful dinner…but I’m no sommelier, so pair as per your taste preferences!)

Ragù di Polpo e Pancetta

Ingredients – Serves 4
2 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Garlic Cloves, whole but smashed out of skins
3 oz. Pancetta or Slab bacon, small diced
1 lb. Octopus tentacles, cooked and small diced
1/2 Cup Red or White Wine or Vodka
4 Roma Tomatoes, peeled and medium diced
1 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, washed and minced
1 tsp. Fresh Thyme, washed and minced
Red Pepper flakes, to taste
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1 Package (500 g) of Garofalo Pasta — Costo carries this great Neapolitan brand

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan on medium heat, add 1 tsp. oil, then garlic cloves and pancetta/bacon. Let pancetta get crispy, but do not brown the garlic (remove if necessary). When pancetta is done, remove from pan and reserve. Add 1 tsp. oil to hot pan, then return the garlic cloves and add chopped octopus–sauté until hot and add wine/vodka, tomatoes, thyme and season with fresh-ground black pepper, red pepper flakes and salt. Bring to a simmer, lower heat and cover for 30 min. Cook pasta, strain and reserve its water. Turn up heat for the sauce, add pasta immediately with a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water and sauté until sauce is evenly distributed on the pasta. Serve immediately, garnished with the pancetta and fresh parsley.

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