I recently started volunteering at the Van Nuys courthouse as a mediator. Van Nuys is the next suburb over from where I was born and grew up, in the San Fernando Valley. My first experience with the Van Nuys courthouse was in high school when I and five of my friends very nearly got expelled after being caught for ditching our internship there. I haven’t always been an angel.
On my way home from court the other day I spotted a Vallarta market and I cannot resist an ethnic market. I stopped in for some carne asada and came out with bags of dried chili peppers, tamarindo, guavas, jamaica, piloncillo, spices, saladitos (an old favorite), cheap dried beans, and a surprise find: baby octopus (previously frozen but that’s the way you’ll usually find it). And unlike shopping at my love it/hate it Whole Foods, this octopus set me back a whopping $4.99.
I’ve been pseudo obsessed with octopus since falling all over myself after ordering it twice at different small plate restaurants: first at the Basque focused eatery called Racion, which has quickly become my new favorite Pasadena restaurant; and second at the much hyped (but well-deserved) Voltaggio haunt ink. Unlike your typical chewy octopus sushi, the octopus I had at these restaurants were tender, juicy, and really really tasty.
Inspired more by the flavors of the dish I had at Racion, and the duck sausage from Harmony Farms that I needed to use up in my fridge, this is what I came up with: baby octopus with duck sausage in a tomato wine sauce, served over fregola sarda (toasted) pasta with a side of sauteed broccoli rabe. And if I can brag for a quick sec, this was one of the best pasta type dishes I’ve ever concocted.
Next time you spot octopus at your local Vallarta, don’t be afraid of it. The dish I prepared was no more trouble than making a decent tomato sauce. And cooking and eating octopus for dinner really makes you feel daring and exotic, if just for an hour.