QUARANTINE DIARIES, COMFORT FOOD & ALL THE SMALL THINGS THAT KEEP US GOING
An interview from my dear friend Athina, from the heart of Athens and her comfort dish, it happens to be one of my most beloved Greek dishes: octopus with pasta.
Head straight to the recipe.
A few words about you and where did the quarantine find you?
Athina, Athens, slightly deranged, introvert, the blogger behind Kicking Back the Pebbles. EFL/ESOL teacher for sixteen years, feature writer, line editor, social media content creator more recently. The quarantine found me in Athens already doing what millions of others were told to do all of a sudden: working from home.
What did it change for you ?
In terms of work, absolutely nothing. But all other aspects of everyday life have involved a roller coaster of emotions I have yet to assess. You see, the introversion premise partly relies on the fact that the rest of the world functions in blissful gregariousness, while you’re being reserved or reflective by choice. When everyone turns reserved and reflective, the introvert is f***ing confused!
How many loo-rolls can you count in your cupboards?
The usual ten-roll count we always keep in the cleaning closet. And I seriously can’t wrap my head around the craze. Sorry, but if need be, you can always wash your bum-bum, can’t you?
Comfort food: octopus with pasta
Anything pasta with a soft spot for mac n cheese, but since my better half is on a no-dairy diet (and I have yet to master the perfect vegan mac n cheese), we opt for seafood macaroni. Octopus with macaroni is a pretty standard Greek dish, and mine is a plain-Jane’s recipe. It reminds me of breezy summer dinners in my parents’ veranda overlooking the busy Argostoli seafront, so right now, it strikes a chord—or two.
Octopus with macaroni, htapodi me kofto makaronaki
- 1 large octopus, approx. 2 kg
- 50 ml olive oil
- 200 ml dry white wine
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced lengthwise
- 1 tsp peppercorn
- 50 ml olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 500 g tomato puree (aka strained tomatoes)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 150 ml water
- 1 pack ditaloni or elbow macaroni pasta, usually 500 g
- ½ a bunch of parsley (about 1 cup or 25 g). Save a pinch or two for garnishing.
- 2-3 hours before cooking, wash your octopus thoroughly and pat dry with a paper towel. Place it in a serving or baking dish with a lid. Coat the octopus with oil and wine. Scatter sliced garlic cloves and peppercorns over it. Cover and let it marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours. It can also be prepared a day before and marinate overnight.
- Transfer the octopus in a pressure cooker. If any bits and pieces of garlic and peppercorn are sticking on, don’t worry. Add water, just enough to cover it. I don’t use salt in this step because fresh octopus is already salty (and you will be salting the sauce and pasta water later). Seal the cooker and boil on medium heat for 17-20 minutes. You can use a regular pot and simmer for as long as you need to achieve preferred tenderness. It may take a bit longer, and you may also need to add more water.
- Use tongs to remove the octopus from the pot onto a cutting board. Since it will be piping hot, the tongs will also help you handle it while cutting it into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
- Before making the sauce, make sure to strain the leftover water from the pot into a clean bowl (use a fine sieve). You will use it to boil the macaroni later.
- Warm the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the crushed garlic. Stir to release its aroma, but only for a couple of seconds. Add the tomato puree, 150 ml warm water, season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the octopus and simmer until the sauce thickens. It shouldn’t take more than 5-7 minutes.
- Use this time to cook the pasta. Fill up a pot with water, and don’t forget to add the strained octopus’ water. Cook macaroni according to package directions.
- Strain pasta, return to pot, add octopus with sauce, parsley, and mix well to combine.
- Serve with freshly ground pepper and extra parsley on top.
How do you cope?
Unfortunately, I went back to smoking. Please neatly fold your judgy-pants away folks! I’m a weird smoker, generally speaking. I only have a smoke when we go out with friends for drinks, on holidays, more so in the summer. I can go for months without smoking, I never smoke at home, and I never smoke when we go out for dinner either. That said, since day one of the quarantine, I often hit our building rooftop at nights with a beer and a cigarette and enjoy the views of lit Athenian apartment windows. There’s something comforting about lit apartment windows.
Where will you go eat once this madness is over?
At Bread & Roses in Omonoia Square.
Share a wish, just so we can finish on a happy note.
We have historically beaten viruses before—by courtesy of Pasteur and Jenner—we’ll beat this one too, but then we’ll need a makeover! (An international hairdresser appreciation day needs to be established asap.)
from Athens with love,
PS: If you wish to be part of my quarantine cuisine diaries and share your experience on Eat Yourself Greek (EYG), please drop me a line here. Thanks, Eugeniaby