Spaghetti with Squid or Baby Octopus

Spaghetti al Ragù di Totano

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


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Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

This dish, from the southern Italian region of Calabria, can be made with squid (called totani in the regional dialect), baby octopus, or cuttlefish. Unlike many Italian pasta dishes that use quickly sautéed squid, this version calls for gently braising it in tomato sauce. One difference between this dish and classic French stews is that French stew recipes call for cooking the ingredients in a minimum of fat and skimming off the fat during or after cooking so that little if any ends up in the final sauce. In this stew, a large amount of olive oil is used and the stew is gently cooked, uncovered, until the olive oil separates out. This separated mixture—heresy to a French cook—becomes the sauce.


squid or baby octopus 2 lb 900 g
onion, finely chopped 1 medium 1 medium
garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 2
extra-virgin olive oil ½ cup 125 ml
tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped or drained and chopped canned tomatoes 4 medium or 2 cups 4 medium or 500 ml
dried spaghetti or other strand pasta 1 lb 450 g
chopped basil leaves (chopped at the last minute) 3 tbsp 45 ml
salt and pepper to taste to taste


  1. Clean the squid by pulling out the innards and cutting off the tentacles just above where they join into a cluster. The purple skin may be scraped off the hoods, but this is only for appearance—some cooks insist that the flavor is improved by leaving this skin attached. Cut the hoods into ¼-inch-wide (5 mm) rings. Clean baby octopus in the same way as squid but leave the hoods and tentacle clusters whole.
  2. Heat the onion and garlic over medium heat in 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold the drained pasta until translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and the rest of the oil and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the squid or octopus, partially cover the pan, and simmer very gently, stirring every few minutes, until the oil and tomatoes separate and the seafood is tender, about 45 minutes. (If the seafood is cooked before the sauce separates, continue cooking uncovered; if the sauce runs out, add a tablespoon or two of water.)
  3. While the seafood is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil for cooking the pasta. Cook and drain the pasta.
  4. Stir the basil into the sauce, season with salt and pepper, add the pasta, and toss.