Gragnano pasta (paccheri) with octopus ragu’

Aug 3, 2015

Pasta di Gragnano (paccheri) al ragu’ di polpo

As a cook nothing pleases me more than the challenge of recreating a dish I enjoyed in a restaurant. It sometimes takes me years of tests and research to develop the recipe, I am happy to serve my family and friends.  When I am finally satisfied I will teach the recipe to my guests in my classes or publish it on my blog. This is one of those recipes.

al vecchio forno

During a holiday in Italy we were invited to very special seafood lunch by friends of my sister who live in Bari. We ate in Barletta at “Ristorante il Vecchio Forno”. It was a spectacular seafood lunch in true Pugliese style. That day for the first time I had a seafood pasta dish served with cheese. This is something quite unusual elsewhere in Italy, and something seen almost seen as a sin in Italian kitchens, but that day I was absolutely blown over by how fantastic the dish was. Here is my version of this ragu’ served with Pecorino cheese imported from Italy. Use top quality Gragnano Paccheri pasta to make the dish. This type of pasta is readily available now in Australia and is essential if you want an excellent result.


Ingredients for 6 people as an entree 

 1.5 Kg of octopus, small to medium sized ones, (approximately two) . Ask the fishmonger to clean the octopus for you


3 tbs of extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
2 small chillis finely chopped
1 tbs of tomato paste diluted with a quarter cup of warm water
600 to 700 ml of tomato passata
300 gr of Paccheri from Gragnano (not ribbed, the smooth type) – The Gentile brand is highly recommended

60 gr of Italian pecorino cheese (Romano or Sardinian are good options), freshly grated

Ask the fishmonger if the octopus has been frozen and if not freeze it for a few days to tenderise it, then defrost the octopus the night before you want to prepare the dish.

Wash and remove the hard skin from the octopus. This is not difficult as the skin can be easily pulled away from the octopus. Rinse it well and make sure it was properly cleaned by the fishmonger.

Finely chop the octopus into very small pieces.


Pour the olive oil into a heavy based saucepan, add the garlic and chilli and gently sauté for a few seconds until the garlic is just turning a light gold colour. When the pan is hot, add the chopped octopus and sauté’ on a lively flame until the fish starts changing colour. If you still have some of the cooking juices in the saucepan, remove them from the pot using a ladle and reserve. Add the wine and allow to evaporate, this will take 5-10 minutes. Add the diluted tomato paste and passata when the wine is totally evaporated. Bring the pot the boil, reduce the heat to medium low and partly cover with a lid.


Cook on a slow heat for at least one to two hours, the ragu’ must have a rich consistency and the octopus should be very soft and melt in the mouth.

Add some of the reserved juices and/or hot boiling water so as not to allow the sauce to dry too much. You should achieve a rich ragu’ consistency, continue to stir and add more juices/water until the fish is cooked and very soft to the bite.


Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to the instructions on the packet. Ensure you cook paccheri in a large pot as these will absorb some water and expand as they cook. For 300 gr of pasta you will need a large pot containing 4 to 5 lt of water and 4 to 5 tsp of coarse salt. Taste the pasta to test that it is “al dente” before draining and transferring to the pan with the sauce.

Add one to two tbs of the pasta cooking water and gently start to stir the pasta with the sauce. The pasta must be well amalgamated with sauce. Serve immediately in plates or bowls and sprinkle a little Pecorino on each plate.