With plans to go to New York City next April, I started making a list of the restaurants that I'd love to get to. One of hot spots on my list is Babbo, opened by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in 1998. A culinary gem nestled away in an old carriage house on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca epitomizes the best of the great Italian tradition of hospitality and quality, both at the table and in the glass. Their philosophy is simple and straight forward — use the best local ingredients as simply as possible and serve them with flourish and joy. And the menu is a celebration of great ingredients, incorporating the best and freshest seasonal produce, imported Italian cheeses, meat, game and seafood, accented with fine imported olive oils, traditional aceto balsamico, Parmigiano Reggiano, sea salt and Prosciutto San Daniele — distinct and indispensable components to the lusty creation of any great Italian meal. One of the dishes Babbo is acclaimed for is their Grilled Octopus with 'Borlotti Marinati' & Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette. Being an ardent fan of octopus, borlotti beans and Batali, this recipe got my attention.
The octopus is first simmered with olive oil, sliced garlic and hot red pepper flakes for a few minutes, then baked with a cork in a large Dutch oven for up to 2 hours, encouraging the octopus to release all of its liquid. Once cooled, the tentacles are cut into 3-inch pieces and charred on a hot grill until warmed through. The octopus is then added to a tangy Limoncello vinaigrette and served over a bed of seasoned borlotti beans. Garnished with a slice of raw beet and topped with chives and fresh lemon zest, this dish is rich, creamy and exquisitely tender. I can't wait to try Mario's original the next time I'm in NYC.
Grilled Octopus with 'Borlotti Marinati' & Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette
Recipe & photo courtesy Mario Batali
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes, divided
1 2-pound octopus, fresh or frozen
1 wine cork
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup limoncello
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, finely ground, to taste
1 cup borlotti or cannellini beans, cooked
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 bunch of chives, cut into 2-inch batons
1 candy cane beet, shaved for garnish
1 lemon, zest only
Preheat an oven to 300°F. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the octopus to the pan and cook on all sides over high heat until it has changed color and has released its liquid. Add the wine cork, cover the pan with aluminum foil, and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the octopus is soft. Cool to room temperature.
Carefully separate the octopus tentacles from the head. Cut the tentacles into 3-inch pieces; cut the head in half.
To make the vinaigrette, bring the lemon juice and sugar to a boil in a small sauce pan and reduce by half to a syrup. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes and let cool. Once cool, whisk in the olive oil and limoncello. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the beans with the red wine vinegar and chopped onion, and allow the mixture to marinate. Using a mandoline, shave the raw beet into thin slices and set aside. To serve, char the octopus over a hot grill until warmed through. Spoon some beans onto a plate, top with the grilled octopus and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Garnish with a slice of shaved beet, the chive batons, a flurry of lemon zest and serve.