Meal of the Week: A dish steeped in Italian history - Polpo alla Luciana

Polpo alla Luciana in all its glory
Polpo alla Luciana in all its glory Copyright Copyright Savin Mattozzi
Copyright Copyright Savin Mattozzi
By Savin Mattozzi
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In order to really benefit from Euronews Culture's meal of the week, treat the instructions as a guide but feel free to get creative! The only ingredient you must use is tender, loving care. Buon appetito!


Situated in the heart of the Mediterranean, it’s hardly a surprise that there are no shortages of seafood dishes in southern Italian cuisine. From swordfish to muscles to sea urchins and octopus, there are countless traditional meals that date back hundreds if not thousands of years native to the region.

One of the most popular seafood dishes in Naples is actually one of my top five favourite meals of all time - Polpo alla Luciana (or Lucian octopus). Its name comes from the Neapolitan neighbourhood of Santa Lucia where locals claim the dish was invented.

Situated at the southernmost tip of the city centre, Santa Lucia used to be a working class fishing neighbourhood - and it’s one of the oldest areas in all of Naples. According to local lore, fisherman would set up special terracotta pots under the water at night and when they returned, they would be filled with the tricky-to-catch octopuses.

There is some debate around this fishing technique; it can be found in Roman, Etruscan and Greek tradition but it isn’t clear who invented it first. However, regardless of its provenance, it spread around the Mediterranean and was a common fishing practice from southern Italy to Tunisia and Morocco.

Historically, once the fisherman caught the octopuses, they would bring them back home and cook them in a terracotta pot for hours, using salt water to tenderise the meat as octopus can be quite tough.

Today, most people don’t cook the octopus in these terracotta pots - but the rest of the recipe hasn’t strayed much from the original.

Copyright Savin Mattozzi
Why not serve Polpo alla Luciana with pasta for a tasty treat?Copyright Savin Mattozzi

Here’s how to make it…


1-2 small octopuses

400g of plain tomato sauce

250g of cherry tomatoes

A dozen black, whole olives

2-3 cloves of garlic

1 red chilli

Black pepper

Fresh parsley

Olive oil




If you are able to get fresh octopus, that’s ideal but, if not, frozen octopus will work just fine.

Clean the octopus by first cutting the head off under the eyes.

Clean the tentacles well under cold water making sure to get any sand out of the suction cups and remove the beak by pushing it out from where you made the first cut.

After the tentacles are clean take the head and cut out the eyes and clean out the inside of the head.


Wash it under cold water and then cut the head in half.

After the octopus is fully clean, bring a small pot of water to a simmer and quickly dip the tentacles in and out three or four times to make them curl up. N.B. This step is optional.

Put a pan on low heat and put five tablespoons of oil with your diced chilli and garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add the octopus in and mix it around the oil for about a minute then add the halved cherry tomatoes, tomato sauce, black pepper, parsley, olives and salt.

Mix well for another minute or so and then cover for about an hour stirring after about 30 minutes.


Once the sauce and octopus is ready you can either serve it directly into a bowl and eat it with bread or cut it up into smaller pieces and mix it in with pasta.

Garnish with some fresh parsley and buon appetito!

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