Octopus risotto

February 10, 2010  •  Category: ,

This post is an opportunity for me to pay homage to my paternal grandmother, Marie Pavlovic. Originally from Dubrovnikon the Dalmatian coast, her father had been a Captain in the merchant marine fleet from Croatia, shuttling between the Adriatic and the Mediterranean; Marie was a product of an era permeated by  the Austro-Hungarian empire ; she claimed that a cousin of hers had opened the ball at the Habsburg court. ( Are you totally  bored? If so, skip the paragraph).

So, with  Dalmatian-Croatian (blue) blood, my grandmother and her family  settled in Egypt, a British colony. Life was busy with balls and tea parties amongst the European community in Cairo. Then Nasser came along and decided it was high time for Egypt to be in charge of its destiny and in the late fifties all the foreigners had to flee  Egypt. My grandmother settled in Lebanon  for a while. Lebanon had, for centuries, been a haven for refugees of all stripes, so the early sixties saw an influx of people we used to call the Egyptians (even though none of them were truly  Egyptian). My grandmother was clearly out of sync in Lebanese society,  but at least she had a few of her Egyptian friends (mostly Greeks and  Italians) to soften the trauma of her exodus. They  would lament the loss of their world and berate Nasser for forcing them to abandon this (soft) life. Simultaneously, in our neighborhood in Beirut, every time Nasser gave a speech, it was party time!  Our entire street would be outfitted with loudspeakers and everyone on our block would be sitting outside listening intently and cheering. What can I say? Beirut was-still is– a city of glaring contrasts.

4th cooking event mediterranean food - CROATIA - tobias cooks! - 10.01.2010-10.02.2010

This is a dish from Dubrovnik in the Dalmatian coast. I dare you to take a bite! It is hard to believe that something black and off-putting can be so delightful once it is in one’s mouth. The octopus is not fishy, yet it gives the rice the aroma of seafood. It is rich, of course, I added a splash of cream and a bit of cheese at the end, but worth it; a dish for a special occasion, and even though it is seafood, it is recommended to serve it with a red wine.

Source for the Croatian Dalmatian Black Risotto, adapted.

INGREDIENTS: To feed about 6 people

  • 1 octopus, weight about 2 pounds (1 kilo)-substitute calamari if you wish-
  • ink bag, if you can get one (optional)
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • olive oil, as needed
  • 3 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or a can of good tomatoes, like Pomi)
  • 3 cloves of garlic (I put about 12, but then I am Lebanese, I can’t help it)
  • a bunch of parsley, cleaned and chopped, stems discarded (I used cilantro, sorry, I am L…)
  • lemons, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup of cream (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of shredded hard cheese like parmesan or similar cheese
  • 2 or 3 cups of white wine
  • 1 bottle of clam juice (optional)or any seafood stock
  • 2 1/2 cups of risotto rice (arborio or Turkish medium grain or even sushi rice will work)


  1. Clean the octopus under running water and scrub  it with a half lemon if you wish.
  2. Cut into bite-size pieces (I used kitchen shears).
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the onions. Fry until they turn golden and translucent.
  4. Add the octopus, tomatoes, bay leaf, wine and cook for 30 minutes or so at a bare simmer.
  5. Add more wine, the mashed garlic, and cook 30 minutes longer, also over low heat.
  6. Add the rice to the broth and the parsley and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid. Add some  clam juice or seafood stock if you have any available and cook the rice completely. Add the ink bag the last 5 minutes of cooking. .
  7. Add a splash of cream and the cheese and stir the pot to mix evenly. Cook a bit more over low heat to incorporate and melt the cheese. Season if needed.
  8. Serve with a garnish of chopped parsley and lemon slices.

Source for the photo: Wikipedia


33 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Rosa says:

    An interesting family background…

    This dish is very special. Wonderful!



  2. tobias cooks! says:

    What a dish! Great photo! I am glad that my banner photo fits the origin of your dish so well! Thanks for participating!

  3. Maninas says:

    I was very excited to see this post!!! :))) And it was lovely to read about your Gran. I imagine how she must have felt, a refugee twice. I had to leave my home (also twice) during the war in the 90s, but I was only a child, and am only now understanding the meaning of it all.

    My mum and I make cuttlefish or squid risotto all the time. Here’s her recipe: http://maninas.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/cuttlefish-risotto/.

    I’ve been meaning to post a cuttlefish/squid stew (brudet), and you’ve just reminded me of that.

  4. Doria says:

    Ell est incroyable ta recette et terriblement originale !
    Le plus difficile va être de trouver de l’encre de seiche et du poulpe de qualité.
    Je te souhaite un très bon mercredi,
    Bisous, Doria

  5. Priya says:

    First time am seeing these sort of risotto, looks great and thanks for sharing..

  6. TastyTrix says:

    Oh, not bored at all! What a fascinating family history you have. As for this dish, you don’t have to dare me – I’d love to have a bite!

  7. Arlette says:

    Great posting Joumana
    this is a great dish, never had cooked Octopus like this,
    glad to learn more about your family and your grandma . Is she still living with your parents in Beirut.

  8. northshorewoman says:

    I liked hearing the story of your paternal grandmother. Lebanon was multicultural before the word existed!

  9. Dinners & Dreams says:

    I learned something new about you today. You have quite a diverse background. How wonderful!


  10. Mimi says:

    Wonderful post, great photos. Thanks for sharing not only a delicious recipe but your family history as well.
    Does the ink add flavor, or just color to the risotto?

  11. Alice Kezhaya says:

    This was delicious! It didn’t take long for us to finish it off 🙂

  12. Michelle says:

    Wonderful family history with so many adventures! We love octopus but I never had it any way but broiled either in my oven or on the grill. And I’ve never tried working with the ink sack. Hmmmm……interesting!

  13. rajani@eatwritethink says:

    hi since i dont eat meat, i cannot comment on the dish, but i did love your story. your grandmother’s times sounds very romantic. another time another space.

  14. S Lloyd says:

    I guess this is a win-win situation for me: I love risotto and I love Octopus! I have just stumbled upon your blog (awesome blog!) and my wife and I have decided to follow your recipe this weekend at home.
    PS: Just an off-note -> do you know any blog that does reviews of retaurants of Beyrouth. I would be interested to learn from the restaurant scene in Beyrouth (especially the upscale fine dinings there)

    • Joumana says:

      There are some magazines one can purchase in Beirut that have reviews of restaurants such as Time-Out or the Beirut Guide. There is a library in Beirut called Librairie Antoine that has an online store and may sell some guidebooks on the restaurant scene in Beirut. I am relocating in a few months to Beirut and am planning to include these reviews in my blog as well. http://www.antoineonline.com

  15. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says:

    What a beautiful tribute! This risotto looks wonderful. If we can’t get clam juice, do we substitute it with fish or seafood stock? 🙂

  16. Julie says:

    Non, ça ne m’ennuie pas du tout de découvrir tes origines, c’est très intéressant et ça permet d’en apprendre plus sur les différentes cultures!
    Je suis fan de risotto mais pas vraiment de poulpe par contre, cela dit, ça doit vraiment faire de l’effet sur la table le riz noir. Comme toujours, tes photos sont extras!


  17. Azita says:

    I enjoyed reading your post and learning about your grandma. what a wonderful tribute. I’ve never had octopus, looks wonderful!

  18. Simply Life says:

    wow what a unique and great looking dish!

  19. shayma says:

    Joumana, what a beautiful story- I can relate, on some levels to how your grandmother must have felt, my husband and i often feel this way living outside of our home country. my father’s family were kicked out of Afghanistan by the British, and I hear those stories all the time. the wonderful part, though, is that your grandmummy had her italian and greek friends, and i think having that anchor is very impt. i am in a new city where i still do not have that. i have therefore immersed myself in my work (profession) and my passion- which is cooking, blogging and reading blogs (apart from the time i spend with my husband 🙂 i love this recipe, am a lover of seafood- esp octopus and squid. i’d love to have that red wine with it. you dare me? i shall accept this dare, with great pleasure. xo shayma

  20. sushma Mallya says:

    Hi was nice to read abt ur family….regarding ur query abt chocolate cake I had posted today i used 5 big pieces of chocolate or roughly abt 1 small bar of dairy milk in my recipe….

  21. Nadjibella says:

    Il y a parfois des destins plus compliqués ou plus douloureux que d’autres, mais n’est-ce pas une richesse pour la vie.
    Je suis convaincue qu’il n’y a rien de pire qu’une vie monotone où tous les jours se ressemblent.
    Il faut croire que l’exil de ta grand-mère ne s’est pas pas arrêté avec elle au Liban, tu continues toi aussi.
    L’exil est toujours douloureux mais il peut être aussi source de richesse.
    Ton risotto est une réussite totale. Les photos sont magnifiques et donnent envie d’y goûter tout de suite.
    A bientôt.

  22. Barbara says:

    You have a fascinating background….I enjoyed your story very much.
    Because we spend a lot of time in the Caribbean, we enjoy octopus and squid. Have made many a salad with it. And have had bbq octopus in several restaurants. (Calamari is too common to even discuss) There’s a restaurant in NYC called Periyali that has a fabulous octopus appetizer.
    I think I would love to try this recipe, but pass on the ink, only because it makes the color less than appetizing…and that has a lot to do with my enjoyment of a dish.
    Fun post!

  23. Diana says:

    Wow, fancy! I can remember trying the black paella in Spain (cooked in squid ink) and being surprised that it didn’t have such a strong taste. Now I’m curious about the octopus flavor!

  24. Jeanne @ Cooksister! says:

    Great post – love the idea that none of “the Egyptians” were actualyl Egyptian! I was astonished the first time I had squid ink in a dish – you’d think with that colour it can’t taste good – but it does! Love this recipe.

  25. Ivy says:

    We eat octopus a lot in Greece but we usually make it with pasta. This is a recipe I must definitely try. Dubrovnik is a very beautiful place I visited lots of years ago. I love those laces called copanelli, if I remember the name correctly.

  26. rebecca says:

    wow I love the history of your blog don’t change a thing and this risotto is fab

  27. Joanne says:

    Squid risotto I’ve heard of. But octopus! I am intrigued. Beautiful presentation.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment on my post! It really meant a lot to me that you actually read it and responded to it. 😀

  28. peter says:

    I did not know you had some Croatian in you! I love octopus and especially a woman that embraces this delcious delicacy of the world. The ink makes the rice look like caviar.

  29. melrose says:

    Lovely, I am glad to finally find out how did your grandmother come to Lebanon from Croatia…it is quite unusual:)

  30. domi says:

    Bonjour Joumana, voilà une excellentissime recette ( pour moi ) il y a tout ce que j’ aime et en plus j’ adore les couleurs. Voilà une réalisation que je réaliserai prochainement, bisous et bon Week end

Add a Comment