The fishing of octopus has always been a secondary activity on the Golfe du Lion where Sète is a small but important port. We know that octopus was caught on this coast and shipped to Toulouse in the fourteenth century. There are a few extant octopus recipes from the Middle Ages, and one I’m familiar with is an octopus stuffed with mint, parsley, and other herbs found in the anonymous fourteenth-century Catalan cookbook Libre de sent soví.
This recipe from Sète called Tielle de Poulpe Sètoise I first tasted in Cap d’Agde, a small, rather pleasant seaside resort in the Hérault department of the Languedoc. Today it is notable as the site of the Quartier Naturisme, a nudist city of about 10,000 people. This delicious tielle, made in an earthenware pan about five inches in diameter of the same name, is a spicy octopus ragoût clothed in a sweet wine-flavored pastry dough. The wine-colored crust glistens with a golden aura because of an egg yolk-and-tomato paste glaze. Down the road from Sète, in Bouzigues, a similar preparation is made with mussels and is called chausson de moule.
2 to 2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 ½ ounces pork lard
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sweet red wine
1 ½ pounds octopus, cleaned
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half, seeds squeezed out, and grated against the largest holes of a standing grater down to the peel
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Pork lard or butter for greasing the tart pan
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1. In a cold, large metal bowl, work 2 cups of the flour, the lard, sugar, and salt together with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it is pebbly and well-blended. Alternatively, pulse in a food processor and then transfer to a cold metal bowl. Add the wine and knead until you have supple dough, adding more flour if the dough is sticking. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in waxed paper and leave in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
2. Put the octopus in a large pot of boiling salted water with the vinegar and boil until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and peel as much of the skin off the octopus as you can while it is still hot. Chop the octopus into smaller than bite-size pieces.
3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then cook the onion , garlic, and octopus until the onion is soft, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and season the sauce with salt, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, and bay leaf. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the sauce simmer until the water is evaporated, about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out thin. Cut out sixteen 5-inch disks. Lightly grease eight 4-inch tart pans with lard or butter and cover each with a disk of dough. Prick the dough all over with a toothpick. Spread several tablespoons of the tomato-and-octopus stuffing over it. Cover with the remaining disks and pinch down the edges so they meet the bottom disk. Pinch off any excess dough. Prick the top with a toothpick. Whisk together 2 or 3 drops of olive oil with the egg yolk and tomato paste and brush on the top crust.
6. Bake until a glistening golden, about 30 minutes. Remove the tarts from their pan, arrange on a serving platter, and serve.
Makes 8 servings