I know what you’re thinking – octopus and bone marrow shouldn’t even appear in the same sentence let alone on the same plate but bare with me as you’re wrong, very wrong. Marea is an amazing Italian seafood restaurant in New York and this is their signature dish created by chef owner Michael White. I first saw the dish on an Anthony Bourdain episode of No Reservations, aptly titled Food Porn. In the program Anthony Bourdain hand picks a few dishes he deems worthy of the title and this was one of them. After his first mouthful he stated it was the best pasta he’s ever tasted. That was all I needed to hear to know I had to try and recreate this dish. I’ve unfortunately never eaten at Marea but I urged my husband to dine there on his next trip to New York and to order this dish. He did and called from the restaurant to confirm Mr Bourdain was correct and that this was indeed the best pasta he’s ever tasted. I was able to cobble together a recipe from some kitchen footage in the No Reservations episode and Serious Eats. According to my husband (who has since been to Marea on a number of occasions) it’s pretty darn close. I have nothing to compare it to but that’s okay because it’s truly delicious so I’m happy. The pasta Michael White uses at Marea is long strands of hand made fusilli, I used a dried variety but fresh or dried it’s definitely the best shape for the sauce. The baby octopus is slowly braised in red wine and tomatoes and just before serving, bone marrow that has been flash fried in butter with thyme and garlic is stirred into the sauce – the taste is totally luxurious, kind of like finishing a sauce with foie gras. Trust me, try this and you won’t be disappointed. If you have squeamish friends, don’t even tell them about the bone marrow – they’ll never know and will just wonder what an earth that certain something is that makes this sauce taste so amazing.
Ingredients – Serves 2-3
3 cloves of garlic, crushed in a garlic press or finely minced
500g baby octopus, cleaned and trimmed and cut into halves or quarters
1 cup full bodied red wine
1 x 400g tin of Italian peeled plum tomatoes, San Marzano if possible, placed in bowl and crushed by hand
¼ cup best quality beef stock
2 teaspoons sugar
1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste
Handful of fresh basil leaves
250g bone marrow, this can be purchased from your butcher but may require pre-ordering, chopped into 1.5cm pieces
3 extra cloves of garlic, crushed in a garlic press or finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon butter
Place a large skillet, which has a lid, over medium-high heat and add a generous splash of olive oil. When the oil is hot add the octopus and flash fry for a couple of minutes . Add the first measure of garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of chilli flakes. Cook for a minute more then add the red wine. Bring to the boil and let it reduce by half. Add the basil, tomatoes, beef stock and sugar. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Lower heat, cover and cook for one hour. Remove the lid and let it cook for a further 20 minutes. At this point the sauce should be quite thick. Check for seasoning and adjust if required.
Towards the end of the cooking time place a small fry pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and when bubbling add the garlic and thyme, cook for a couple of minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Increase the heat and add the chopped bone marrow and quickly fry it basting the marrow with the garlic and thyme infused butter. You only want to fry the marrow on high heat for a few minutes, any longer and it will disintegrate and melt. Add all the ingredients in the marrow pan to the sauce and gently stir it through. Bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil and cook the pasta until al dente. When the pasta is cooked drain it well and add it to the sauce and mix it through the sauce until the pasta is evenly coated. Serve immediately.