Octopus Stew Provençale with Soft Polenta and Roasted Pepper Squash Purée

January 29, 2007

First things first, there is not much that is “Provençale” in this recipe past the fact that it is inspired by the cuisine of this region and includes some of its staple ingredients (thyme, capers, olives etc..) Even though Polenta is said to be Italian, the recipe has traveled to France a long time ago and is commonly found in the cuisine of some of the regions of the country (perhaps notably in Corsica where polenta is done with chestnut instead of corn.)


According to some sites and chefs, Polenta is a complicated process and takes quite a bit elbow grease. I just think these people are out of their mind. There is a few principles that need to be known: Throw that instant polenta to the garbage, the longer polenta cooks, the better it gets and you need to stir every 5 minutes, not exactly what I think is a difficult operation. To make polenta I simply boil as much water as a big pot can contain, with a bit of salt. Once the water is boiling whisk in as much polenta as you think you need (1-2-3 cups, whatever), lower the eat to low, stir for about 3-4 minutes with a wooden spoon to make sure the polenta doesn’t stick while the pot goes down in temperature. Stir every 5 minutes from now on and cook until you have the consistency you need, more or less if you need soft or hard polenta. Voilà.


The Roasted Pepper Squash purée is just as simple. Half and remove the seeds of a pepper squash and generously put olive oil on the meat. Put skin side up on a baking sheet and put in a 400 degrees oven for one hour or an hour and a half. Remove from the oven, let cool for a little bit and scoop out the meat in a bowl. Smash the meat with the spoon you scooped the meat out and add a teaspoon of butter per portion, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Encore une fois: Voilà!


Now for another distinction with this recipe: Beer. As you might have noticed in the past, I am much more a beer drinker than a wine drinker, mostly for ignorance reasons. That said, this recipe would work perfectly well if cooked with a nice white wine, preferably with not a lot of acidity. That said I decided to go with a nice Belgian-inspired beer from local Unibroue brewerie. La Blanche de Chambly was meant to be a copy of the Belgian Blanche de Bruges and ended up as a very nice distinctive beer with a terrific citrus character and a very smooth hop flavour.


The stew:


  • 1 lbs of Octopus, in bit size chunks

  • 1 big onion

  • 1 big parsnip (any root vegetable you have works, combinations work too)

  • ½ head of garlic

  • ¼ cup of minced smoked herring

  • 1 handful of capers

  • 1 handful of chopped olives

  • 2 hot chilies finely chopped (optional)

  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme

  • 1 750ml of Blanche de Chambly
  • olive oil


For the stew, brown the parsnip and the onion with a branch of thyme well in a dutch oven over high heat. Once nicely browned, add the octopus and the garlic for about 2 minutes, stirring a few times. Add the 750 ml bottle of the beer with the capers, the smoked herring and chilies. Let simmer over low heat for one hour or more until the octopus is tender. Adjust seasoning, the capers and smoked herring will salt the dish a bit so go easy on the salt. Garnish with some fresh thyme and a few chopped olives and serve over the soft polenta.


Tunes: Kristofer Ǻström, Loupita. Honestly one of the best folk records I have heard in the past 5 years. Great songwriting, great music and a lot of killer melodies.


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