Although I have not been very adventurous with the ingredients in the original Daring Kitchen challenge recipe, I did take many liberties with the proportions and the processes. Octopus is a very finicky ingredient that is very easy to overcook and turn into a rubbery mess. If cooked correctly it is succulent and yielding to the bite and is the perfect accompaniment to the paella-like dish. The original recipe called for only 3TB of the sofregit sauce leaving a rather large portion that would not be used in the conceivable future. To remedy this, I added all of the sofregit and reduced the amount of stock required so the rice would not become soupy. It is a delicious but filling dish that had me craving a Spanish siesta.

Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Tomatoes, a Bowl of Aubergines and Onions, c. 1771-1774
Oil on canvas, 36.8 x 49 cm, framed Derek Johns, London

Although he received little acclaim during his lifetime, Luis Meléndez is now recognized as one of the greatest eighteenth century Spanish still life artists. His works are powerful and striking though his balanced composition and control of light. Highlights are found throughout the painting upon every surface imaginable. The precise brushstrokes convey texture (the smooth skin of the tomato and the rough stem of the aubergines) which in turn help to visualize the volume of the produce. Meléndez often placed the perspective at a very low vantage point to bring the subject matter closer to the viewer. With the ideas of the Enlightenment prevalent, Meléndez paid close attention to the natural forms found in everyday life (1).

Within Catalan cuisine there are five fundamental sauces including allioli, samfaina, picada, romesco, and sofregit. Hundreds of Catalan recipes begin by using sofregit as a base and it is use predominantly in recipes for sauces and stews. It a very old sauce dating back to medieval times with a mention in Libre de Sent Sovi from circa 1324. At that time in it’s history, sofregit was mainly composed of onions and leeks and it was not until the sixteenth century when tomatoes were brought over from the Americas that a version of the modern sofregit was born. The word sofregit is derived from the Catalan verb meaning to “underfry”, sofregir (2). The sauce is a lightly fried mixture of vegetables that over the low heat begin to caramelize.

{Baby Octopus in Sofregit Sauce}

Adapted from a recipe by José Andrés

1 jar artichokes
12 mushrooms
2 bay leaves
1/3 c white wine
1/3 c white wine vinegar
500g baby octopus
sofregit sauce (recipe below)
2 c medium grain rice
1 1/2 c fish stock
1/4 tsp turmeric
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp dried chili flakes

Cut the baby octopus into segments and put in a small bowl with the lemon and chili flakes. Let the citrus acid tenderize the octopus before searing it on a very hot pan. Do not cook more than 1-2 minutes tops or it will assume a rubbery texture.

Saute the mushrooms and artichokes in the same pan the octpus was cooked in with two bay leaves. Once golden add the white wine to de-glaze the bottom of the pan. Add the liquids and the sofregit sauce and bring to a boil.

Add the rice and boil for 5 minutes over heavy heat. Add the turmeric and stir to incorporate well. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20-30 minutes until the rice is lovely and tender. You may need to add more liquid. Mix in the octopus and any allow the rice to stand. Squeeze over fresh lemon and serve.

{Sofregit Sauce}

2 TB olive oil
1 can diced tomatoes
1 brown onion, chopped
1/2 red capsicum
2 cloves purple garlic, chopped
5 mushrooms, chopped
2 small chilies, de-seeded and chopped
1 Bay leaf
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp dried oregano

Saute the onion, capsicum, garlic, and chilies in a pan until they are softened slightly. Add the remaining ingredients and cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes begin to caramelize.