Who doesn’t love a good bruschetta? This popular Italian antipasto is so much more than a simple piece of toast, though, at the same time, that is exactly what it is: toast. Yet, a good bruschetta, at its most basic level – crispy on the outside and slightly chewy in the middle, rubbed with garlic, and drizzled with good olive oil – can make anyone happy, right?
A simple bruschetta is great, but it can go so many ways; the variation of possible toppings is amazing! There’s the most simple and well-known tomato bruschetta. For meat lovers, drape a good slice of prosciutto over the hot toast, maybe paired with some gooey buffalo mozzarella. Those in a fancier mood can try freshly baked porcini with a little bit of fresh thyme (though any mushroom will do, naturally). Perhaps you’d prefer a colorful beetroot, mint and crumbled feta topping. Or maybe you’ve made too much taramosalata and have to find ways to use up your batch. Or… have you ever thought of putting boiled baby-octopus on bruschetta, with a smear of a garlicky giant white butter bean spread, a slice of charred sweet red pepper, and a sprinkle of fresh thyme? Because I have… and it’s great!
At the moment, the fishmarket’s stalls are overflowing with these small octopi. Usually I’d make an octopus stifado, but this time I was craving something lighter as the weather has been amazingly spring-y lately. I remembered a friend recently telling me about putting taramosalata on bruschetta and topping it with some pieces of octopus… but I had just finished my batch of taramosalata…
I’ve seen dishes on the menu at tavernas that combine stewed cuttlefish with chickpeas, or beans. Remembering this, I thought: ‘could octopus fit with beans?’. Turns out they do. Γίγαντες (gigantes), or giant white butter beans, cooked and served in a tomato-based sauce (think your common Heinz baked beans… but giant.) are a very popular meze dish in Greece. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to find a half-empty bag of beans (beans of all types mind you) in the back of your cupboard.
There’s just one downside to this recipe: the giant beans should be soaked in cold water overnight and then cooked until soft. If you don’t have the time to do so, or simply forgot (me), add the beans to a pot filled with salted, cold water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, turn off the heat and cover the pot leaving the beans to soak in the hot water. After about 30 – 40 minutes the beans should be rehydrated enough to be cooked (which takes another 1 ½ hours, or so). You could, of course, also use canned beans if you’re in a hurry, but the dried beans are more deeply flavoured and cost-effective.
The baby octopi are simply boiled in a little bit of salted water and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar until the connective tissue breaks down and the octopi turn deliciously soft (takes about 40 minutes). They are then chopped up and fried quickly with some browned garlic and fresh thyme. My recipe here uses the stovetop and the oven, but If you have any access to an open fire for cooking, grilling the octopus and the bread over an open fire (the proper way to toast bruschetta, I’ve read) can only make this dish even more delicious.
Oh yeah, finally: don’t worry about slicing the bread too perfectly, the ridges and ragged edges of the bread crisp up differently, even charring a little if you’re lucky, creating a very interesting combination of textures to the bruschetta; this is also the reason I’ve used the twisted loaf pictured.
This recipe is for 12 pieces of bruschetta. When served as an appetizer it will serve 6 people, each getting 2 pieces of bruschetta. They can also be served as a party snack, though eating the bruschetta can be quite messy! Plates are a necessity.
Bruschetta with Octopus and Giant Bean Spread
- Loaf of airy, white bread, such as ciabatta
- 2 medium-sized sweet red pointy peppers
- Extra lemon wedges to serve (optional)
- for the octopus:
- 700g - 1kg baby octopus, cleaned
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 tablespoon of fresh thyme, stalks removed
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- for the bean spread:
- 100g dried giant white beans
- olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, roasted
- 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
MethodNote: the dried beans need to be soaked in cold water overnight, or kept in a covered pot soaking in boiled water for at least 30 - 40 minutes.
- Boil your pre-soaked giant beans until soft for about 1 - 1 ½ hours.
- Preheat oven to 190°C.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot on the stove, barely cover octopi with cold water, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep the liquid at a soft simmer. Boil until octopi are tender (45 minutes).
- While your beans and octopi are on the stove, generously sprinkle a baking tray with olive oil. Place the two sweet pointy peppers and three cloves of garlic with the skin on, on the baking sheet. Drizzle with some extra olive oil. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes until the skin of the peppers starts to brown and the garlic becomes soft. When done, remove red peppers and garlic from oven to cool.
- For the octopus topping: when the octopi are cooked and soft. Drain fluids and chop octopi into little pieces. Heat up a frying pan on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 tablespoon of fresh thyme, and the pieces of octopus. Add salt and ground black pepper to taste. Stir and fry until the mixture becomes fragrant and the garlic starts to brown. Remove from heat. Mix octopus-mixture with two tablespoons of lemon juice. Set aside.
- For the bean spread: when your beans are boiled and soft, drain. Place a small frying pan on medium-high heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the finely diced onion. Fry until onion starts to soften and brown. Squeeze the three previously grilled garlic cloves into the pan and add your boiled giant beans. Remove pan from heat. Carefully mash the beans with a fork. Add salt to taste and add another drizzle of olive oil. Mash until relatively smooth.
- When all you toppings are ready, prepare the bruschetta. Reheat the oven to 190°C. Slice your bread into 12 slices and drizzle on some olive oil. Toast the slices of bread in the preheated oven for about 10 - 15 minutes until the edges start to brown and the bread gets crispy. Remove from the oven and place on a board, or serving platter.
- Spread a tablespoon of the bean mixture onto the toasted bread. Slice previously grilled red, pointy peppers into thin strips and place two, or three strips of grilled pepper on each slice of bread. Add a heaped tablespoon of octopus mixture on top of the bean spread and red pepper.